Singing for AIDS prevention and support

Pamela Cochet of Arioso on stage at the concert in 2017. Arthur White-Crummey/Daily Herald

Dozens of delicious cookies and a trio of talented singers will be on display for the 11th straight year this Sunday.

The annual Arioso concert, a fundraiser for Grandmothers for Grandmothers, is a partnership between the Arioso trio (Linda Jensen, Pamela Cochet and Andrea Wiser), some of the city’s best musicians (Craig Williams, Dan Stoman, Dean Dynna, Maureen Dynna and Ted Peachey) and the Prince Albert chapter of Grandmothers for Grandmothers. The event has been the largest fundraiser for the Grandmothers for Grandmothers group for each of the last 11 years.

“It’s been it’s been our largest fundraiser. We’re a small community so we do much better than a lot of other smaller communities in Saskatchewan,” said chapter president Bea Fisher.

The event usually raises about $8,000. All the proceeds go to the Stephen Lewis Foundation to be distributed to community-based organizations in Africa.

“(The foundation) has figured out a way to bypass a lot of the governmental red tape in Africa,” Fisher explained.

“(The community-based organizations) are organized around, for and by grandmothers who are expressing their needs while they raise their grandchildren who have been orphaned by AIDS. Many times there are issues other than food, clothing and school fees and uniforms.”

Those basics – food, clothing and school fees and uniforms – were the primary focus in all 15 countries served by the organization about 10 years ago. Now, some of those children have grown up, and are struggling to stay on their medication, especially as they become pressured by their peers to quit. In some places, Fisher said, those kids orphaned by AIDS have grown up to become community leaders themselves. In those areas, the need is for ongoing testing and prevention. But in other locations, it’s regressed back to the basics of food, clothing and education.

“It’s a good lesson in how progress happens, and how it’s not always a straight line,” Fisher said.

One of the founding members of the Arioso trio, Linda Jensen, has seen that progression and regression as she’s worked with the Grandmothers for Grandmothers group and the annual Arioso concert.

“(The concert) is our reason to be,” Jensen said.

“When we started our trio, we had all been in various community choirs and productions. We went to a Winter Festival show and watched a trio and thought ‘wouldn’t it be fun?’”

The first year, the group worked on building a repertoire and having fun. When they heard about the Grandmothers for Grandmothers chapter setting up, Arioso wanted to get involved.

“I really had the most tremendous respect for Stephen Lewis, and I have followed his career over the years. I thought this was great, and I didn’t want to be in another organization,” Jensen said.

“We wondered whether (Grandmothers for Grandmothers) would be interested in a concert, which was a big jump for them when they were starting out, to take us on. That was a leap of faith for them, but they did. That was 11 years ago.”

Concerts were first held at St. Mary High School. Three years ago it was moved to the larger venue at Plaza 88, because the St. Mary shows were selling out.

“The grannies are amazing ticket sellers,” Jensen said.

Every year’s show has a theme. Last year, the trio focused on celebrating Canada 150. This year’s theme is a kitchen party, prairie style.

“It seems like we’re going more folksy, more acoustic than we did last year,” Jensen said.

“This year we’re really highlighting the harmonies.”

The trio is taking inspiration from three Canadian trios, the Good Lovelies, the O’Pears and the Wailin’ Jennys. There will also be a novelty set, which Jensen said will remain a secret until the show.

According to Fisher, the grandmothers have been hard at work preparing for the show, including baking cookies. Last year, the group sold 600 dozen cookies by intermission. They sell out of the cookies every year. They expect this year will be no different.

“What do I like best?” she asked.

“Is it the smile on everybody’s face as they’re leaving? Is it the beautiful music and the wonderful harmonies and the imagination of these three women? I think it’s all of that. It’s really quite wonderful.”

The 2018 Arioso concert will take place Sunday from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at Plaza 88. Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for students. Tickets can be purchased at Beth’s Yarn and Needlecraft Boutique (909A Central Avenue), from Canadian Tire, or from members of Grandmothers for Grandmothers or Arioso.