Weekend Warrior: Arts Umbrella head Paul Larocque belts it out

Arts Umbrella head Paul Larocque sings with Chor Leoni in Vancouver and around the world

Credit: Adam Blasberg

The CEO of the Vancouver non-profit sings with Chor Leoni

Music has always been a big part of Paul Larocque’s life. He sang in school, church and university choirs, took part in musical theatre and completed the Royal Conservatory of Music piano program. After moving from his native Ontario to Vancouver in 1995, Larocque joined the St. Augustine’s church choir, becoming a member of the Chor Leoni Men’s Choir in 2004.

Larocque, president and CEO of Arts Umbrella since 2016, describes joining Chor Leoni as life-changing for its musical training, friendships, commitment to community service and opportunities to perform around the world. The baritone has travelled with the choir to Bosnia, Czech Republic, Germany and Italy, as well as across Canada and to the U.S. Last summer Chor Leoni competed in the Singapore International Choral Festival and the Bali International Choir Festival, winning gold medals and singing in the prestigious Grand Prix at both.

The 50-odd Chor Leoni members are volunteers, but the choir is a professional calibre classical vocal ensemble, Larocque says. “It’s very serious about its approach to music, the creation of new works, but also celebrating music from around the world,” he explains, adding that it may be one of the busiest amateur choirs in North America, singing to more than 18,000 people in the 2017-18 season.

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the armistice ending the First World War, Chor Leoni commissioned a major new work: When There Is Peace, an oratorio by American composer Zachary Wadsworth with a libretto by artistic director Erick Lichte and theatre director Peter Rothstein, and performances by guest soloists and the Borealis String Quartet.

The Remembrance Day concert is one of Larocque’s favourites because it’s been performed annually since 1993, a year after Chor Leoni’s founding. Plus, “it provides our community with a meaningful opportunity to remember and celebrate the sacrifices of many Canadians who served our country so courageously,” he says.

The annual Christmas Concert series, introduced in 1995, is always popular, drawing 800 or 900 people to some performances: this time around there are five from December 14 to 17, celebrating the launch of a new holiday CD, Star of Wonder, recorded over the past two years.

Chor Leoni rehearsals, held for three hours every Wednesday, are also professionally recorded, with each member receiving a copy so they can practise independently at home. “We’re constantly working our own voices individually but with the objective of being part of a greater sound,” Larocque notes.

As concerts or CD recordings approach, the choir adds extra rehearsals and provides access to private lessons. It also brings in coaches when members sing in foreign languages, which have included French, Russian, Latvian, Estonian and Punjabi.

The next generation of male choral singers is nurtured through MYVoice (Mobilizing Young men’s Voices), a donor-funded Chor Leoni program for 12-to-20-year-olds in Metro Vancouver. Participants perform with the choir every spring at UBC‘s Chan Centre in a concert called VanMan Male Choral Summit.

This April, Cantus, a renowned eight-man U.S. a cappella ensemble, will join them. “It really does help to raise young men to be kinder, more sensitive and thoughtful and caring, but also to keep the tradition of music and music education alive, which is also much of what I do at Arts Umbrella, serving more than 20,000 young people in Metro Vancouver through arts education,”

Larocque says. “I’m lucky that I have the opportunity to have a job that inspires me every single day, and then to be able to participate in something so meaningful as being a part of Chor Leoni is huge for me.”

Warrior Spotlight

Arts Umbrella president and CEO Paul Larocque is heading a $27-million capital campaign to finance larger headquarters in a 50,000-square-foot former Emily Carr University of Art + Design building on Vancouver’s Granville Island. The move, in late 2019, will allow Arts Umbrella to increase the number of students in donor-funded programs by 10,500. The non-profit is also piloting a distance learning program to bring arts education to more than 40  schools across Northern Canada.