From Early Music to the Future! Island Consort Chamber Choir

This chamber choir is full of surprises with their diverse repertoire, crazy warm ups, and Zoom 'pub nights'!

What is your audition process? 

A 25 min. session so we can learn the musical background and attitude of the singer, then a series of 5-note scales plus arpeggios to reveal the singer’s range, pitch accuracy, volume, focus, timbre and vocal agility.  This ends with a brief sight singing challenge and a brief reading of different languages (French, German, Latin)


Choir Name:  Island Consort Chamber Choir
Location:  Nanaimo, British Columbia
Style:  classical/contemporary
Number of singers:  22
Choir Director Name:  Bruce Farquharson
Discover more about the Island Consort on their Facebook and website!


How does your choir approach a new piece of music? 

Singers are expected to independently learn their parts, lyrics and rhythms in advance of rehearsals (to keep note-bashing at a minimum).  We have no accompanist.  Each piece of music is rehearsed 4 to 5 times during the rehearsal season prior to performance.

How does your choir bond as a group?   

All of us have bought into and appreciate the emphasis on quality in sound production and interpretation in our weekly rehearsals and seasonal performances.  Occasional pub nights and now, zoom meetings with fun activities!

Zoom activities — tell us more!

We had a zoom ‘pub night’ and have started a periodic ‘quiz night’ in which one member is host and produces 3 sets of 10 questions on 3 different topics – once a month.  I have also started a series of mailouts in which I send a piece of music to all members that I think characterizes a particular member.  The feedback I get is that many are curious in anticipation of what and how I will characterize them.

Island Consort Chamber Choir takes a fun group photo (Fall 2019).

What was a very special performance and what made it special? 

We were contracted by a professional modern dance company from Vancouver (“Dancers Dancing”) to provide on-stage choral accompaniment in our 800-seat Port Theatre for their 2-hour performance.  They chose a variety of quite challenging music which we were able to deliver for a really entertaining show.

A juicy fact about a composer/arranger you love to tell

Francis Poulenc was a social gad-about as a young man but became very serious and turned to religion when his boyfriend was killed in an auto accident – in the mid-‘30s.  One of his subsequent choral pieces is the Mass in G, which we performed for the Dancers Dancing engagement.

An emotional moment you had in a performance? 

We sang a program titled “Faire Melody of Remembrance” which incuded Jake Runestad’s “Let My Love Be Heard”, which was really heart-wrenching – especially with a background note that the Cal State University choir sang this in memory of one of their singers lost in the Paris bombing of 2015. 

An emotional moment in rehearsal?  

We have a Romanian alto who asked that, at the end of rehearsal, we sing a Romanian National Christmas song so that she could record and send it to her family and friends in Romania.  She was very touched and appreciative.

A turning point in the life of your choir?  

This choir began in 2007 as a small (9 voices) group wishing to sing Early Music repertoire.  After 3 programs, I decided that there is more to life – and more for our audiences – than Early Music, and so began to include greater variety in our programming.  We have always included some Early Music selections but find it a wonderful juxtaposition with much of the Contemporary repertoire – plus the whole gamut of material from Classical to 20th Century music. 

A challenging performance and how you faced it.

We sang a program titled, “East of Brandenburg”, featuring music of East European and Russian composers.  This meant learning the Hungarian, Polish, Latvian, Russian lyrics and pronunciations – with help from one of our choral members and the community.

What is something you do in rehearsals that surprises new members?

The warm-ups are generally the time for surprises: I try to introduce variety and innovation so that they don’t become routine.

Any particularly surprising warmups?

I think some would find our warmup finale – raising arms overhead and flopping over with a high-to-low vocal falloff – somewhat shocking.

The Island Consort Chamber Choir just before their Spring concert (2019).

A funny moment in rehearsal  

Usually when I, the director, make a boo-boo: like facing the altos for an entry when it is the 2nd soprano entry.  I have a number of music majors and the choir does not let me get away with much.

A favorite piece of repertoire & why 

The Bach motet, “Lobet Den Herrn” is such a delightful and challenging piece: it dances with such vitality and features all the vocal sections – ending with the energetic “Alleluia”.

A favorite inspirational quote     

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.  Live the life you have imagined. –Henry David Thoreau

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