Watsonairs a ‘big, beautiful, musical family’

Choral group, the longest continually operating in the province, to be inducted into the Prince Albert Arts Hall of Fame

Choir director May Janzen leads the Watsonaires through rehearsal at the Prince Albert Arts Centre. (Josef Jacobson/Daily Herald)

Teena Polle has already been through the excitement of being inducted into the Prince Albert Arts Hall of Fame.

This year she’ll get to do it all over again, but this time as a member of a group that’s been making music for almost 65 years.

“I’m still on a high from two years ago,” Polle said. “It’s a matter of sharing it with them and being very, very proud, really, very proud that we have continued uninterrupted for over five decades in the City of Prince Albert.

Polle has been a member of the Watsonairs for at least five decades herself. The group’s director, May Janzen, said she almost acts as the choir’s historian.

Polle said she remembers joining the group as soon as she could save up enough money for the uniform of the time.

“It was in the Jackie Kennedy era, so it was a stipulation — you had to have a long gown and long, white gloves,” she said.

“As soon as I had enough money from my job, I acquired that, and have stayed with it ever since, many gowns thereafter.”

The Watsonairs Choral Group launched in 1956. Ever since, they have been providing women in the community an opportunity to sing, perform and give back through music. They are the longest continuously operating choral group in the province.

Proceeds from each concert go to causes of their choice. For the last number of years, funds raised from the annual Christmas Carol Festival have gone to the Salvation Army for their Christmas Cheer Fund. Their spring concerts also raise money for local causes.

Over the course of the last 63 years, the group has supported the girl guides, the Arts Centre, the YWCA, the Victoria Hospital, group homes, the purchase of music instruments at Pine Grove, The Heritage Centre, Herb Basset Home, Pineview Terrace, Sherman Towers, St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church and the EA Rawlinson Centre. They also provide an annual scholarship awarded at the Prince Albert Music Festival.

“I guess you’d say we all have servant hearts because we like to use our love of music to serve the community,” Janzen said. “We love to have other people benefit from what we do for fun.”

Janzen first joined up with the Watsonairs in 1986. For three years, she drove from Porcupine Plain with two other women. Janzen took a hiatus to go to university. Years later, after moving to Anglin Lake in 2004, she rejoined for the winter session in 2005. That same year, she became the director for the Christmas Carol Festival. She’s been at the helm ever since.

“There was a very high level of excitement in the entire group” when they learned they would be inducted into Prince Albert’s Arts Hall of Fame, Janzen said.

“We are so honoured to be allowed to join such an elite group of people in the community of Prince Albert. It is very gratifying to be recognized for our work.”

When asked about a favourite memory, both Polle and Janzen pointed to a similar experience.

“When television came to Prince Albert … we had to do that,” Polle said.

“We were doing live concerts at the TV studio. You have to know exactly where to stand, when to go on and when to move your lips and not to move your lips. That was a lot of fun. It was a great experience, a huge excitement to be on TV live.”

The group was regularly featured on CKBI TV, including features shot outside at Little Red River Park.

“We had a camera crew out there and we sang in the park in different areas,” Janzen said.

“We stood on the little bridge and sang, and we walked to different locations. It was both exciting and fun to do that and know that we were going to be seen on television.”

While both women found the television appearances exciting, and the charitable work rewarding, it’s the love of music and the relationships built along the way that have helped sustain the Watsonairs for more than 60 years.

“The outreach of being able to share music with the community, and to meet so many other singers in the group, the joy of learning new songs and expanding your knowledge of choral singing was a big draw for me,” Polle said.

“The Watsonairs are a group of women who love music and we all come together to share that love of music,” Janzen said when asked to describe the group.

“Watsonairs over the years have forged lifelong friendships with each other.”

Those friendships, Janzen said, are the best part.

“We gravitate together. If we see each other in between practices, we greet each other like long-lost sisters.”

For Polle, some of those friendships have continued beyond the choral group.

“People come and go, they’re single and get married, they have grandchildren, — you almost become a big musical family and you keep in touch with others that have left. They may be in a different country. I’m still in touch with at least a couple that are far away. It’s a big, beautiful musical family.”

Saturday, that family will celebrate together. Janzen estimated current members and their families alone will take up at least three tables at the gala. That doesn’t include friends who might be coming or former members who might also come and celebrate the group’s collective success.

They’ll be celebrated alongside local theatre volunteer Bruce Rusheleau and another local arts group, the Prince Albert Community Players, who have been around almost as long as the Watsonairs and are celebrating their 60th anniversary with a separate gala on Oct. 5.

Janzen said she’s looking forward to seeing all of the people she knows and the friends who come out to the event.

She said the group is grateful to everyone who has helped support them during their 63 years of making music in the community.

“We’d like to thank all of the people that have supported the Watsonairs over the years, by buying tickets and being part of our audiences, and the patrons who have faithfully donated to our projects,” she said.

“(The Watsonairs) will be very excited to become part of such an elite group in the community.”