Southwestern Manitoba choir headed to New York to perform at famed Carnegie Hall

A choir from southwestern Manitoba will be bringing the sounds of Prairie voices to New York’s celebrated Carnegie Hall next month.

Brandon’s Konektis choir will be appearing at a concert called Canada at Carnegie on April 1, as part of the Canada National Chorus — a choir made up of vocal groups from across the country.

Justine Burke, an accompanist and singer with Konektis, says it’s an important opportunity to prove there is talent across Canada — including outside the big cities.

“Sometimes we think, ‘Oh, we’re just from small towns’ or whatever, but … Konektis is doing pretty big things, and we’re starting to be known on a bigger scale,” she said.

“It’s a name drop, right? To be able to sing on such a famous venue, a world-renowned venue.”

Members of Konektis — “connected” in Esperanto, which was intended to be a universal language when it was created in the late 1800s — come from all walks of life, and from the Westman area and beyond, said Burke.

The choir includes educators, accountants and health-care workers — all bound by a love of music.

Burke teaches music to students from grades 5 to 12 at Carberry Collegiate.

“I love using our group as an example to my students of you can pursue music when you leave my program, even if it’s not in a professional way,” she said.

“Lots of us are music teachers or have music degrees, but lots of the choir don’t. But they just still love the stage and love performing.”

‘A really special opportunity’

Last October, Konektis performed with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra in Brandon. The Carnegie Hall will be the first major trip for the choir since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and its second trip outside the province, after visiting Banff, Alta., for the Rocky Mountain Festival in 2019.

Soprano Nadine McLachlan says she learned a lot during the trip to Banff — especially about the powerful connections music can forge.

“It was so special … just being able to connect with everybody on a 12-hour bus ride,” McLachlan said.

“We were singing on the bus. We went to the hot springs [in Banff] and we ended up spontaneously singing a couple of our songs. So it was a really wonderful experience.”

Hailing from Brandon — a city of roughly 54,000 — McLachlan said she never thought she would be singing at the world-renowned Carnegie Hall, which has hosted musicians ranging from the Russian composer Tchaikovsky to the Beatles over its more than 130-year history.

“It’s a really special opportunity for us to take our music … internationally for the first time and really get to put ourselves on a bigger stage,” McLachlan said.

“It’s also so special to get to work with other really talented folks and then also just to get to show our stuff a little bit to a wider community.”

Conductor Michelle Chyzyk says the trip to New York is a “wonderful” opportunity for Konektis, which she calls a “very vibrant ensemble.”

But “of course, it is a major undertaking,” she said. “These singers are very busy individuals and they come from all walks of life.”

Chyzyk says some members have had the opportunity to perform at Carnegie Hall before. She graced the stage as a young accompanist when she was a student at Brandon University.

For many, though, it will be the first time.

“Carnegie is unique. I mean, it’s world-renowned,” Chyzyk said. “We’re proud to represent Canada.”