Carol Bernard: sharing the message of the gospel with everyone, believers or not.
It’s been 18 years since Carol Bernard left a well-paying job to combine her three greatest passions – the Gospel, music and people – to become a full-time choir director, and she hasn’t looked back yet.
Born in Montreal to Jamaican parents, she started Jireh in 1996, having already had years of choir direction under her belt, and moulded the choir into becoming one of Montreal’s performing groups.
Over the years, the choir has garnered widespread support among music lovers far and wide. And has been on stage in shows across the province, also performed in concert halls in Ontario, New York, Switzerland and France.
Her mission with Jireh, she said, has always been about sharing the message of the gospel with everyone, believers or not.
“If the gospel is about good news, why are we going to keep it to ourselves?” she said.
Their new album, Get Up, was released in November, 10 years since their last album came out.
The delay, she says, can be attributed simply to the price tag – it costs $25,000 to record a choir CD, and that’s just to create the product, not even to promote it.
They received a loan to record the album and a grant to do some marketing, which includes advertisements and a slick video featuring the group singing the infectious title track amid a backdrop of Montreal’s most familiar locations.
Being in front of audiences that were comprised mainly of Francophones prompted Bernard to consider adding French songs to their setlist. There are a number of French songs on the album.
“Everyone knows when you hear a song in your language it has a different effect. You can feel it in the audience,” she said.
She pointed out gospel music has come a long way since the group was formed – the songs now often include all the hallmarks of the “Black” genres of music, such as R&B, hip hop, reggae and soca, while incorporating the message of the Gospel.
Other tracks on the album include a rendition of “Amazing Grace” that begins traditionally but gives way to a more jazzy, R&B-like arrangement, and “Suivons le roi,” a tune with an “authentic Caribbean vibe,” something Bernard said she always wanted to incorporate into a song.
Gospel music is associated with no season more than it is with the holiday season, in Canada at least, she said. The theme of the album is hope, a feeling that resonates well at this time of year, but is still relatable the other 11 months of the year, because as Bernard puts it, “Who doesn’t need hope?”
A two-night stand of Christmas-themed shows next week is doubling as the group’s launch party – the disc will be available at all future shows and in various yet to-be-determined stores.
The Montreal Gospel Choir, which Bernard founded in 2011, will also be taking the stage and the two groups will perform together for the third time.
She says anyone planning to attend the show should be ready to dance – “it’s not a spectator sport,” she says – to the sounds of some of the city’s best voices and musicians.
One of the things that keeps Bernard motivated is the reactions of concertgoers, not all of them believers.
“We get people coming (up to us) at the end… And they just feel so much better,” she said.
zJireh will appear on the popular French-language music Belle et Bum Dec. 6, and Radio Canada’s Pour le Plaisir Dec. 11. In the meantime, See Jireh and the Montreal Gospel Choir in concert Saturday, Dec. 13 and Sunday, Dec. 14. Tickets can be purchased at www.montrealgospel.com.