Longshot pays off with choir joining Holly Cole onstage

Jenn Forsland knew it was a bit of a longshot when she sent a message to one of her biggest musical inspirations.

G.P. VANIER CHOIR students rehearse for a much-anticipated performance March 26 with Holly Cole at the Sid Williams Theatre.

Jenn Forsland knew it was a bit of a longshot when she sent the message, but a note to one of her biggest musical inspirations is turning into what she hopes is a huge inspiration for other singers.

Forsland, a well-known Comox Valley singer, choral director and choir teacher at G.P. Vanier Secondary School, is giving her students an opportunity at what she calls “a special place … with a significant inspiration” — to have her students sing the closing song with Canadian songstress Holly Cole on March 26 at the Sid Williams Theatre.

“I have been a fan of hers since high school. I have listened to her CDs for over 20 years, I used to listen to her on my Walkman, and on the old boombox,” admitted Forsland. “She has such an incredible sensibility of the fusion of jazz and pop.”

Forsland said when Cole appeared at Vancouver Island MusicFest in 2011, “I wanted her to know how significant of an impact her music had on me,” she explained, and chatted with Cole following her performance.

“I wanted to say thank you — and I think I could tell she knew that I meant it.”

In addition to multi-platinum sales awards, Cole has received three Junos and two Gemini awards in her 25-plus-year career.

This fall while working with the choir, Forsland played some of Cole’s music and asked her students what they thought of her songs.

“They liked it, took her song, and created their own arrangement. We made it our own; it all came from the kids,” she added.

Forsland initially noticed Cole had a performance scheduled for Nanaimo, then saw a show scheduled for the Sid.

“I immediately got front-row centre tickets.”

Forsland, who has performed with other recognized Canadian singers such as Ron Sexsmith, said she sent a note to Cole on her Facebook page explaining who she is, and what she does.

“It felt like it truly came full circle,” she noted.

As Cole was in Japan, Forsland said she sent the note to her manager to see if there would be any possibility of having her students perform with her during her stop in the Comox Valley.

Prior to receiving an answer, she was asked to provide a recording from the choir.

“I didn’t tell (the students) anything until we made the recording,” she explained. “In addition to recording straight to an MP3 player, we had so many iPhones recording the performance as well — we made sure to get it down.”

About five days later, Forsland received the answer she was hoping for.

“We worked out an arrangement, and we’ll have about 60 students on stage with her for the finale,” she explained. “The Sid is such a special place, and it will be such an experience for everyone.”

Although some students have experience in front of a large audience, Forsland noted the opportunity to perform with Cole in the large venue will be unique.

“We will have one dress rehearsal and we’ll make sure everyone is prepared for the conduct of a professional performance and even things like how to get on and off the risers,” she said and added she cannot think of a better group to join Cole on stage.

“Not that they’re not capable — (the students) are so passionate, clever and creative. It’s hard to listen to them and not be moved; they sing with such an incredible level of enthusiasm.

“It’s possible to teach people to be technically great, but you can’t teach them to have heart.”

Holly Cole performs at the Sid Williams Theatre March 26 at 7:30 p.m. For tickets or more information, visit www.sidwilliamstheatre.com or call 250-338-2430.


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