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Bowen singers invited to check out a pair of Island choirs

One choir is looking to bolster its ranks, while another is looking to return from an extended hiatus
Carmina altos outside Jan22 print
The Carmina Bowena Altos during a January rehearsal outside.

Nicole Thomas Zyczynski is putting the word out: her pair of choirs is looking for Bowen’s vocal talent to fill their ranks.

Zyczynski formed Carmina Bowena last year, following years of involvement with the island’s choir scene. Most notably this included starting the well known group Men on the Rock.

Men on the Rock has been on hiatus for a while now (more on that later), but in the meantime a new group has emerged. Zyczynski fostered the inspiration for the a cappella (no help from musical instruments) last summer, and by fall the reception was enough to turn it into a viable movement.

“We’re eager to get out and do something again. Singing means a lot to a lot of people. I don’t think until you’ve done it you can really understand,” says Zyczynski of the group’s origins. Following a year-and-a-half of pandemic restrictions, people were long overdue to gather together again.

“It’s a chemistry, it’s an adrenaline, there’s all kinds of positive things… Certainly people with an addiction to that – or at least really enjoy that – they were the first ones to contact me in the middle of Covid,” explains Zyczynski. Her callout for 12 to 16 singers yielded more than 20.

“I did audition this group because I did want people to know how to read (music) and I thought we could learn things faster and move on and do concerts more often,” says Zyczynski.

“And that there was a turnover of music that was greater than a very amateur group that has to learn things more by ear. So that was the intent of that choir – just taking it up a notch.”

The name? Appropriately, it means ‘Songs of Bowen.’

The group gathered steam through the fall, but a Covid resurgence late in the year caused many participants to rethink their involvement in the group activity. By the time winter hit, Carmina Bowena’s ranks had thinned.

“But the choir went on,” says Zyczynski. The remaining members adjusted to restrictions, holding outdoor rehearsals on member’s porches, and even holding a small Christmas meal and concert for each other – despite the fact it was cold enough to see their breath.

Carmina tenors outside print
The Carmina Bowena Tenors keep their spirits up during an outdoor winter rehearsal. / Nicole Zyczynski

Outdoor practices were the reality through June, when the choir felt comfortable enough to gather in Zyczynski’s house. The perseverance has paid off: the group sang at a pair of performances this summer including the Strawberry Tea, and are now looking to bolster their performing capability this fall, with perhaps even a winter performance at Tir-na-nOg.

To do that, they first need a few more singers. Carmina Bowena needs three more bass vocalists, as they currently only have one confirmed. The choir is also waiting to see if they’ll have a tenor spot that needs filling.

For those interested, the choir’s current repertoire includes Renaissance songs from the 16th and 17th centuries, combined with modern choral music from 1950 onwards.

“There’s some similarity, musically speaking,” explains Zyczynski of the multi-century leap forward in time. “How composers write nowadays, they’re often inspired by the same musical texture from the Renaissance in many ways. So that’s why I chose that… Also it’s a way to highlight some of our Canadian contemporary composers.”

Carmina Bowena meets on Tuesday nights, usually for around two hours. Rehearsals will likely start at 6 or 7 pm.

Zyczynski doesn’t want to stop there though. She’s also hoping to resurrect the aforementioned Men on the Rock, a popular island group formed in 2016 that, like many groups, was brought to a halt during the pandemic.

“I just keep hearing more and more how people miss it. Many say ‘oh I thought Men on the Rock was here, they’ve been around forever. In fact it was only really five years, but I guess it feels like a real pillar somehow,” says Zyczynski.

The choir – 16 men at its peak – played many Bowen events such as Light Up the Cove, Rotary Club and United Church performances, and, sadly, a pair of funerals for two of their members.

Singing more modern pieces, including Tom Waits, the Beach Boys and Bob Dylan, the choir even sold out performances on the mainland.

During Covid lockdowns Men on the Rock tried to keep things going virtually, but the feeling was lost with screen performances. Some participants have left the island since then and, much like Carmina Bowena, the pandemic has deterred some people from group gatherings for the foreseeable future.

“It will all depend on who is interested to come back. Maybe there is new blood on Bowen,” says Zyczynski of any potential revival. There’s no audition for any men wanting to join the group. Zyczynski says anyone wanting to join is welcome, and she will take their training from there.

“Any guy who can sing basically, is what the stipulation is. It doesn’t really matter if they read music at this point,” she says.

Anyone interested in joining either choir can get in touch with Zyczynski by email at [email protected], or phone at 778-926-4286.