A life dedicated to music. Sharing the message through Jireh and Montreal Gospel Choir
By Egbert Gaye
The way Carol Bernard tells it, gospel music is really about more than just songs and movement.
She says it’s more about bringing a powerful message of hope and inspiration to audiences and seeing the impact that it has on them.
“I can say for sure that I’ve seen many lives transformed by gospel music: whether it’s in their expressions during our concerts or their testimonies after, you know it’s a life-changing experience for many. ” says Bernard, who in her 20 years as a choir director has performed for tens of thousands people across Canada, the United States and Europe. “It’s all about that message of hope that the music brings.”
Indeed, she says, she too draws from that reservoir of hope and empowerment the music carries, as a way of renewing her purpose.
Bernard, who devoted much of her life making sure that her group Jireh Gospel Choir takes its place on Montreal’s cultural landscape while spreading the joy of gospel far and wide, refers to it as a labor of love.
In 1999, three years after she founded Jireh, walked away from a comfortable management position at CN Rail to pursue a fulltime career in music.
“True, it’s been a lot of hard work and a complete lifestyle change (no expensive coats, no expensive handbags) but I’ve never regretted it,” she told the CONTACT. “I love music and I love using it to share the Word because I’m fully convinced of the message of Jesus.”
Her full-time devotion to her craft led her to a degree in Music at Université de Montréal complementing her training in classical piano as a child and her many years as choir director.
Before long, she was earning acclaim in her capacity as a choir director, singer, arranger, producer and teacher and Jireh was quickly establishing itself as as a musical force, performing at prestigious event across Canada and beyond such as the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, the Discover Jazz Festival in Burlington, USA, Toronto Downtown Jazz Festival, Montreal Tremblant International Blues Festival and accompanying Cirque du Soleil at the Montreal Jazz Festival.
Today, Jireh with its fully bilingual repertoire stands as one of Montreal’s most entertaining choirs. Bernard credits “the incredible talent” of each of the 17 members that make up the group for its creative and captivating sound.
And although its audiences come in all ages, creed and class, Jireh is not your grandmother’s choir: their repertoire move easily from the standard old Negro spirituals to contemporary rap and an added dash of Caribbean up-tempo rhythms.
And never expect to see them on stage with the traditional robes, standard to most choirs. “Not our style,” Bernard says.
But because each of their performances is stamped with the passion and verve of their youthfulness, expect always to be fully entertained when Jireh takes to the stage.
As it was recently for sold-out audiences in Sept Iles, Baie Comeau, Rimouski and Riviere du Loup, where they thrilled thousands during their tour of Note Nord and Low St. Laurent regions of Quebec or for the 2000 or so, that turned out for a mega out-door concert at Parc Lafontaine, last year.
The choir is also making its mark in the industry, capping the Gospel Album Of The Year award from the Gospel Music Association of Canada for its third album Get Up, which was released last November.
For Bernard, the love that comes back from satisfied audiences and listeners is a blessing and vindication of the belief she placed in the power of music.
And for reasons, she cannot much explain, it drives her to do more.
Four years ago, she was urged by members of her church, to start another choir, a large choir. So she did and is thrilled at what has evolved.
The Montreal Gospel Choir with over 80 voices has offered a place for those who love to sing and always wanted to be part of a mass choir.
“At first I wasn’t sure of what I was getting into but it turned out to be a very meaningful project,” she says.
On Saturday and Sunday, December 11-12 Montrealers will get an opportunity to share in the musical ministry of Carol Bernard together with Jireh and Montreal Gospel Choir at their annual Christmas Gospel Celebration concert at St. James United Church in downtown Montreal.
Last year, more than 1600 reveled in what was described as an electrifying and refreshing evening of music. This year, the event titled One15 promises another epic showcase that will combine Jireh’s captivatingly joyful and all-encompassing sound with the explosive and &&&& musical offerings of the Montreal Gospel Choir.
There will be dancing.
And Bernard notes that gospel lovers in our community have been “missing out on the joy.”
“We have been successful in reaching out to other communities, our hope now is to see more of our people among our audiences.”
The Event: Jireh and Montreal Gospel Choir (Under the direction of Carol Bernard) present: ONE15 on Saturday, December 12 and Sunday December 13 at St. James United Church, 463 St. Catherine Street, Mtl. Tickets and Info. www.montrealgospel.com