It was originally supposed to be a Christmas concert.
Instead – due to COVID-19 – White Rock City Orchestra’s collaboration with piano-violin duo Roy and Rosemary wound up being a music video of a single song.
Nonetheless, the heartwarming instrumental performance of The Christmas Song (“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…”), recently released on YouTube, has all the makings of an instant holiday season classic – not to mention a terrific calling card for the local ensemble.
And it’s well worth a few plays – and some justifiable hometown pride – during this Christmas.
Filmed by Spiro Creative, it’s a professionally-shot and edited – and beautifully recorded and balanced (by Andrey Kopetre) – instrumental version of the 1945 song by Robert Wells and Mel Torme, most closely associated with legendary vocalist Nat King Cole.
The fine, jazz-inflected concert arrangement, by Roy Tan, is an ample showcase for Rosemary Siemens’ expressive violin and Tan’s lyrical piano stylings.
But it also highlights the warmth and tone of the current White Rock orchestra, conducted by Paula DeWit, which, over the course of almost two years of pandemic, has shrunk to a stellar core group of some 15 local musicians.
Also well showcased in the performance is the conductor’s own soulful trumpet sound (honed during her years as a professional instrumentalist and featured member of a Canadian Armed Forces show band); plus the spare, but supportive, brushes-and-cymbal work of percussionist Dominique Bernath and the resonant acoustic bass touch of WRCO president Peter Koyander.
“Dominique is part of David Sabourin’s team at Tapestry Music – she works supplying instruments for a lot of the school bands – and she’s also a really good musician,” said DeWit, who also helms the Chilliwack Symphony and choral ensemble Belle Voci.
“And Peter, who has been our president for some two years, is a fine musician who also helps us with projects like the video, and in writing grant proposals – he’s a big asset to the WRCO.”
DeWit acknowledges that the video raises the bar for the group, which she said she wants to take in a more semi-professional direction – post COVID – by bringing in some professional musicians as section leaders, providing mentorship for other members.
“A lot of our regular musicians have told us they just aren’t comfortable rehearsing and playing under the present circumstances, but hopefully they’ll be back once things change.
“I could see us doing more videos – if they can be done to this standard,” she said.
The evolution of the latest project was a direct result of the pandemic, she added.
“At first we were going to do a Christmas concert with Roy and Rosemary – they’ve done a lot of gigging over the years and worked with a lot of ensembles in the Vancouver area – because we got a grant from the City of Surrey,” she said.
But uncertainty over what provincial rules would be in place – and whether they might be changed as a concert date approached – led the WRCO away from committing to a concert that might end up having to be cancelled, DeWit said.
“That’s what happened to our Messiah performance last year,” she noted.
“Instead of losing the money by having to go through a cancellation, we thought ‘why don’t we make a really nice Christmas video?’”
A lot of work went into the performance before any footage was shot, she said.
“Everybody did their own individual track at a temporary studio at the Masons Hall in White Rock and then we remastered them all with with Logic Pro software to get the right balance,” she said. “Roy (who’s in the U.S.) and Rosemary (who’s in Vancouver) each sent in their own video. I actually recorded my trumpet part in my walk-in closet at home.”
The orchestra members gathered at Historic Stewart Farmhouse in early November to shoot their scenes, playing along with the playback of the mixed piece while Spiro Creative’s team, Peninsula-raised Adera Adelucci and her husband Ryan Smith, shot footage from multiple angles, DeWit said.
“That part was really fun, and it wasn’t too cold,” she added. “We shot it over and over until they were satisfied they had everything they needed.”
The Farmhouse was selected since the orchestra felt it was important to choose a Surrey location, because of the grant from the City of Surrey, DeWit said.
“We wanted to create a relaxed atmosphere, and it also had to be outside, because of COVID and distancing,” she said. “I think it worked out really well.”
The Christmas Song by Roy and Rosemary with the White Rock City Orchestra can be accessed at https://youtu.be/rSFDfd4YKtc