By Steve Hubrecht

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Think of it as a brand new cover version of a much-loved old song: a new choir director will be at the helm of the Valley Voices Choir when the group starts up again this fall, after the summer break.

Incoming director Bryant Olender is taking over from long-serving outgoing director Paul Carriere. Carriere has been leading Valley Voices for at least a decade, and it will be hard for many valley residents to imagine the choir without him. But then again, at first blush it must have seemed hard to imagine ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ without the Beatles or ‘I Will Always Love You’ without Dolly Parton. And look what Joe Cocker and Whitney Houston did there.

So too with Valley Voices in a few months — it will be the same, but changed. Every bit as good as before, but in an intriguingly different way. 

“There’s a lot of great talent here in the choir. There’s been a lot of focus on vocals, which has been fantastic, but going forward my hope is that there will be more than just singing. There’ll be more popular music, more entertainment,” Olender told the Pioneer. “For me it’s very exciting. I haven’t done choir arranging or orchestral arranging for a while . . . it’s bringing back a fire I haven’t had since I was a teenager.”

Olender brings impressive credentials to his new job. He’s been a professional musician for more than 30 years, spending time in bands, as a solo performer, working on cruise ships, in Los Angeles and in Vancouver. For more than half a decade he was Michael Buble’s piano player and music director. “We became good friends, but then he got his big break and got a record deal. He had to get a new band, that’s just how the music business works,” said Olender.

What kind of music did Olender build his career on?

“Everything, I play everything. Pop, jazz, standards, classic, lounge and just about anything else. Frank Sinatra, Ella, Elton John,” he said. “I kind of just know what the audience wants to hear next. I don’t know how I know that, but it seems to be something I’ve got, and it does help make the shows fun. Hopefully that can help with the choir too.”

In 2019, Olender spent three months crisscrossing England as part of a Barry Manilow tribute tour. He played 40 shows in three months. Coming home to Vancouver, he decided it was time for a break.

“I’m very grateful for my career. It has been fantastic. But playing gig after gig after gig, night after night after night, it does become a lot. It was time to get out of the wheel,” said Olender.

He and his partner, James Charman, moved to Canal Flats in early 2020, for Charman’s work. They were here for a few weeks and then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“As it turns out, coming to the Columbia Valley was a blessing in disguise. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to go through COVID-19 in the city, instead of out here. It would have been crazy,” said Olender.

In the three years since, the couple has settled in the valley lifestyle, enjoying the great outdoors.

Olender has been giving music lessons. Earlier this year some of his singing students, upon learning that Carriere would be stepping down, suggested Olender as a replacement. Carriere called Olender and met him for coffee about a month ago. The two hit it off immediately. They’d grown up in the same part of the Lower Mainland, and, as it turns out, they’d had some of the same music teachers and music adjudicators growing up.

“Then he asked me if I would consider leading the choir. I had no idea he was going to ask that. It was like saying ‘here’s the keys to the kingdom, do you want them?’ Umm, of course I do. Wow,” said Olender.

He isn’t 100 per cent sure when the first Valley Voices concert under his watch will be, but can’t wait for it. Stay tuned to the Pioneer for more details when the season approaches.