Yule Duel will bring holiday cheer to Gastown

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      Gastown has a perfect antidote for those who are muttering the modern-day equivalent of “Bah, humbug” at this time of year. All they need to do is head down to the cobblestone streets of the city’s oldest neighbourhood on Thursday (December 1 ) for the second annual Yule Duel.

      It will feature 22 choirs serenading the streets with carols to celebrate the holiday season—as well as competitive singing to wind up the evening in the main square where Powell, Water, and Carrall streets meet.

      Leanore Sali, executive director of the Gastown Business Improvement Society, told the Georgia Straight by phone that the fun begins at 6 p.m. and will continue until about 9 p.m. The Marcus Mosely Chorale will perform on the main stage.

      “Last year, it was absolutely amazing,” she said. “It was totally magical.”

      This year, there will be 22 participating choirs, including Venezuelan and French carollers. There will also be several children’s groups.

      “When they got to be up on the big stage last year, they just sang their hearts out,” Sali recalled. “They were so excited to be performing in front of an audience like this.”

      Choirs ranging from six to 60 members will be situated along Water Street east of Abbott Street and along parts of Carrall and Powell streets.

      A panel of eight judges—including Elektra Women’s Choir choral conductor Morna Edmundson; Michael Boucher, SFU Woodward’s director of cultural programs and partnerships; and politicians Heather Deal and Spencer Chandra Herbert—will walk around the area before eventually selecting two finalists in three categories: best vocal, most creative, and best children’s choir. That’s when the duels begin, as the two choirs take to the main stage.

      There’s also a people’s choice award. Anyone who comes down to Gastown on Thursday can buy a button for $5 and cast a ballot for their favourite choir.

      All the proceeds will go to May’s Place, which is a five-bed hospice operated by the Bloom Group at 333 Powell Street.

      According to Sali, last year’s Yule Duel raised $25,000 to $30,000.

      “Many of our businesses are donating their services and their time to the event,” she said. “Some are sponsoring choirs.”

      The resource-development and communications manager for the Bloom Group, Darius Maze, told the Straight by phone that the idea for Yule Duel came from a similar event in Seattle.

      Last year, he added, there were about 5,000 people packed into two square blocks of Gastown to hear the choirs.

      “May’s Place actually came about because of the AIDS crisis,” Maze said. “So we have this history of working with the marginalized located in the Downtown Eastside.”

      Coincidentally, this year’s Yule Duel takes place on World AIDS Day.

      Maze explained that it costs about $33 a day, including medication, to take care of people who are spending their final days in the hospice. 

      “A lot of the people who stay there wouldn’t be able to afford that minimal cost themselves, so we subsidize that,” he said. “So all the money from Yule Duel allows us to continue to operate the hospice and provide a service free of charge.”

      Maze described May's Place as providing residents with a feeling of home rather than a sense that they're living in an institutionalized setting. It's because the hospice has upholstered couches and chairs, which remind him of his grandmother's home, and staff that care for clients without judging them.

      "One of the interesting things that we found is that a lot of people who come there are at the end of life, but their quality of life actually improves when they get the proper medication and proper food," Maze said.