By Judith van Berkom –
When director and founder of the Stairwell Carollers, Pierre Massie, met his wife Holly in their first year of university, he was busy studying French music. Her major was theatre.
“He chased me until I caught him,” jokes Holly.
This encounter was the birth of the Stairwell Carollers, with Pierre Massie directing, and Holly (not yet Massie) and a small group of students singing Christmas carols in the stairwells of the University of Ottawa’s student residence.
It was mostly Pierre’s idea, to go caroling in public. Holly, however, didn’t sing. The group started to practice and Holly realized she was an alto, which she describes as being “exciting and scary – traumatic and fun.”
The choir, yet unnamed, also sang on Rideau Street during the Christmas season, and would often just sing for someone who looked lonely. They refused payment of any kind, but at times, deliberately placed themselves next to Salvation Army kettles on the street or in a mall. “We never wanted money,” says Holly, adding that their goal was really just to cheer people up over the Christmas season.
The choir, officially formed in 1977, originally consisted of 10 to 12 voices. They were singing on the streets and in area malls when CFRA’s Gord Atkinson heard them and invited them to record their music.
The naming of the group was a snap decision.
“What’s your name?” asked Atkinson. One of the sopranos piped up: “The Stairwell Carollers!” and it’s been with them ever since. [story continues below video]
This year marks the 37th season for this non-profit group. They sing during the Christmas season and in the spring, when they perform sacred and secular renaissance music.
In 1987, they released their first vinyl record, which raised $53,000 for the Ronald MacDonald house at CHEO. “It still sounds like us,” says Holly Massie, adding that the experience gave them a few ideas in regards to raising money for charities.
All proceeds from concerts and sale of CDs go to charity. To date, the choir has raised over $67,000 for scholarships and charities.
The release of their first CD celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Stairwell Carollers in 1997. Their efforts have not gone unrecognized. Winners of the 2013 Ontario Music Festivals Association provincial competition, the Stairwell Carollers have recorded six CDs which can be purchased on their website.
Kitchissippi resident, Andrew Jones, joined the choir in October. He completed a music minor in university and works during the day as a computer programmer.
Jones, a tenor who loves to sing, was encouraged to join by his friend, Nikki Farris-Manning, also a resident of Kitchissippi ward, who has been with the choir for the last four years. Pierre Massie was Farris-Manning’s band director at Glebe Collegiate and encouraged her to join after high school. “[Pierre] pushes very hard, but gets great results,” Farris-Manning says.
The Stairwell Carollers have been busy performing around Ottawa this holiday season. The last two concerts of the season will be taking place:
- Dec. 12 at Knox Presbyterian Church, 120 Lisgar St., at 7:30 p.m.
- Dec. 17 at St. Columba Anglican Church, 24 Sandridge Rd., at 7:30 p.m.
For more information about the Stairwell Carrollers, go to stairwellcarollers.com.