For almost two decades, John Goulart dreamed of creating a professional symphony and chorus.
It's an idea his late wife, Karen Joy Minish, also believed in. She was a soprano, artist and painter.
They both took part in the Bow Valley Chorus, composed of both amateur and professional performers.
Minish died on Dec. 19, 2020, after being diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of ovarian cancer. With her estate funds, and donations made through a GoFundMe account, Goulart is completing his vision, creating the Firebird Symphony and Chorus.
"The orchestra and the chorus really is an extension of Karen, and it's an extension of her legacy," Goulart said in an interview on the Calgary Eyeopener.
The group is made up of about 80 professional singers and musicians. The funds will pay for four concerts to start, with the group focusing on choral symphonic music, like Mozart's Requiem.
The first concert happens Sunday night at the University of Calgary's Eckhardt-Gramatté Hall.
"That type of ensemble, as it stands right now, does not really exist in Calgary," Goulart said.
"I'm really excited.… It'll be the home of the Firebird Symphony and Chorus."
A professional ensemble
Deborah Rosen, who is an alto singer in the chorus, found out about the group through Goulart. She's known both him and Minish for years, having also participated in the Bow Valley Chorus.
She is now living in Lac Ste. Anne County, but when she heard about the Firebird group, she said she was thrilled to join.
"To be in a professional group, the level of musicianship is so high and things get done quickly and efficiently, and to sing in the middle of it, it's my bliss," she said.
"It's just an experience that's very special that a lot of people don't ever get to have."
Rosen said the group has had two rehearsals so far, and they'll join together with the orchestra just one day before their first performance.
When the soprano section sings, Rosen said she can still hear Minish's voice in her head.
"She was always a person who would be there if you needed someone. Lots of fun to be around, and it's just wonderful to honour her with this kind of tribute from this orchestra and chorus," she said.
"It's going to be very exciting, and I sure hope a lot of people come out and experience it."
Goulart said the idea for the chorus and orchestra began in 2005.
As music director of the Bow Valley Chorus, he and Minish developed relationships with other artists, and he believed the area had the talent for such a group.
The cancer diagnosis came in 2018, and Minish began chemotherapy.
"A year after the first diagnosis, she actually responded incredibly well and was cancer-free. And so that was pretty miraculous considering that we were told that she was going to be terminal," Goulart said.
Minish returned to the stage and performed with the Bow Valley Chorus in 2019. She also received a gift from her sister: a phoenix charm.
"She actually started calling her the phoenix because she had come back from this horrible cancer diagnosis. So Karen wore this charm with pride," Goulart said.
Although he had already decided "Firebird" would make a good name for the orchestra and chorus one day, when Minish passed away, he knew it was the right fit.
"Karen was the Firebird. So that ties it all together."