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Bow Valley Chorus director honours late wife with symphony

“The new association with Karen made it inevitable that it was going to be called the firebird. Karen is the firebird, and the Firebird Symphony and Chorus is now a thing and I am extremely proud.”

BOW VALLEY – For years, John Goulart and his wife Karen Joy Minish discussed plans to form a professional musical group in Calgary. That plan would eventually come to fruition as a living reminder to mark the legacy of Minish, who passed away in December 2020 from cancer.

On May 29 at the Rozsa Centre on the University of Calgary campus, the first Firebird Symphony was held. The symphony was created using money from the estate of Minish and a GoFundMe started by a family friend, Kathy Arney.

“I have been working on this for the past year and a half,” Goulart said. “It is an ensemble. The mandate is classical choral symphonic music. We just did our first concert, which went extremely well.”

After the cancer diagnosis, Minish was told her condition was terminal, but she would be cancer-free after eight months.

“We sort of continued our lives and then, unfortunately, eight or nine months later she was re-diagnosed with the cancer and lived for another year.”

Now, the name of the symphony serves as a memorial to honour Minish.

“Her sister, Diane, gave her a pendant for her birthday after she recovered from her diagnosis. The pendant was for a charm, and it was the firebird, the phoenix, and Diane started calling her the phoenix,” Goulart said.

Goulart had the idea for a professional group for several years, and firebird was a name he had originally planned for it.

“The new association with Karen made it inevitable that it was going to be called the firebird,” Goulart said. “Karen is the firebird, and the Firebird Symphony and Chorus is now a thing and I am extremely proud.”

To form the symphony and chorus, Goulart dug into his list of contacts accumulated over decades. He was able to bring in 40 players from the Calgary Philharmonic, the Red Deer Symphony, as well as Mount Royal instructors and freelance musicians.

“I have a very good contact list of musicians I have used over the years for the orchestra,” Goulart said. “I was able to put together an excellent orchestra and I was very happy and very proud to have them play with me.”

For the chorus, auditions were held in February. Everything then came together to make an unforgettable night for Goulart, with the hall filled nearly to capacity.

“I am just incredibly satisfied with the performance. The performance went extremely well,” Goulart said. “When you have 40 voices, all trained, the sound you produce with an orchestra of highly-skilled musicians is amazing.”

The first piece performed was a statement piece for Goulart composed by Zoltan Kodaly, a mid-20th century composer.

“That piece of music, I sang in university about 38 years ago. It resonated for me back then,” Goulart said. “It was tremendously difficult then and it is difficult now, but the chorus pulled it off incredibly well.”

As he prepared for the first concert, Goulart was so focused on organizing everything he didn’t have a chance to take in the culmination of his everything he had spent so much time envisioning.

“The week prior and the day of the concert, there was so much work involved, logistical things, that I didn’t have a chance to enjoy it like I do a lot of the time,” Goulart said. “I was so busy doing it that the whole thing, digesting it, took several days afterwards.”

Now the work begins on the next three concerts, which will be held in October, February and next May.

“I am really hoping it is a major player in the Calgary music scene,” Goulart said.

All concerts will be at the Rozsa Centre, Eckhardt-Gramatte Hall on the University of Calgary campus. Tickets will be available a month before each concert and can be bought at