Preparing to sing a new tune with Harmony Choir 2.0

Previous Harmony choirs like this one offered free participation in return for a ‘pay it forward’ approach. Submitted Photo

Cathy Dobson

A group of volunteers intend to resurrect the Harmony for Youth choir and kick-start a lost Christmas tradition in Sarnia.

A holiday sing-along that was hosted by the Kennedy family for decades and later moved to the Sarnia Library Auditorium ended about five years ago.

But singer and music instructor Paul Woolley plans to resume the popular event with help from a new choir affiliated with Harmony.

Harmony was all but defunct until Woolley saw a plea for help from the youth group’s board of directors. Reviving Harmony and the Christmas show are important, he said.

“I believe in kids and music, and I’m in a good position to help.”

In October, he started Wednesday evening choir practices at the Lochiel Kiwanis Centre for anyone aged 12 – 19. Five youth are attending regularly and Woolley hopes as many as 25 more will join.

“A lot of families can’t afford music lessons, so this is free,” said Woolley, who has been singing in choirs since he was a kid and has decades of experience as a vocal coach and music director.

He’s determined to carry on the tradition of Harmony for Youth, which was founded in 1995 by the late Joanne Klauke-Labelle as a haven for local young people.

In its heyday, Harmony had about 300 members participating daily in everything from choir and guitar to cooking classes and homework coaching.

Harmony promoted self-esteem and confidence, asking only that the participants pay it forward by helping others.

The pandemic forced the indefinite suspension of all Harmony programs.

“We were shut down completely,” says board president Paul Kearney. “And they tore down the building we were using (Bayside Centre).

“You can’t get more shut down than that.”

Unifor Local 914 helped store Harmony’s instruments and materials in its basement, but there was a flood and some equipment was lost.

“However, the board has not disbanded,” said Kearney. “In fact we are trying to figure out how we can rebuild and do this again.”

Starting a youth choir is a big step forward, he said.

“It’s really important because choir gives kids a place to express themselves, get away from video screens and interact with one another.”

Choir participation help develop discipline, commitment, teamwork and other life skills, added Woolley.

“You just can’t replace the experience of standing on a stage.”

He has booked the library auditorium for Sunday, Dec. 5 at 3 p.m. so the community can join the new Harmony choir for a Christmas sing-along.

“There’s no experience needed to be in the choir. We don’t care if kids think they can’t sing or read music, said Woolley.

“We’re going to teach them.”

To learn more or to register, visit www.harmonyforyouth.ca or just show up at the Lochiel Kiwanis Centre on College Street, 7 p.m. Wednesdays.

Proof of double vaccination is required along with identification.

The Arts Journal reflects Sarnia’s cultural life. Send your ideas to cathy.dobson@thesarniajournal.ca.