Pierre (Pete) Massie, composer, arranger, choir director, singer and music teacher founded the "Stairwell Carollers" in 1977 and has had the honour and privilege of directing the group ever since.
Hailing from Timmins Ontario, Pierre has made Ottawa his home since 1984. Under the expert guidance of his voice teacher, Gloria Richard, he received his Bachelor of Music and his Bachelor of Education in 1980, achieving a Grade 6 Conservatory equivalence on all brass, woodwind, and percussion instruments, as well as violin.
One of many musical hats you've worn over the years as been director of Offbeat, said to be inspired by the New York production Stomp. How did that start, exactly, and how did it evolve?
Offbeat started in 1997 when I was teaching at Osgoode Township High School. Prior to that I was always doing some kind of percussion piece with my students using the conventional instruments. Then at one point, I saw STOMP on DVD and thought that they might be some of that material that I could actually reproduce with the kids. I started with the broom routine, having students mouth their parts and then, once I had the brooms, I had them work out the routine. The broom routine and Offbeat were premiered at Osgoode's Music Night in May of 1997.
Did you notate the music for Offbeat?
I wrote the music right from the very start. The first ten students who were part of Offbeat, learned the broom routine by following my hand written score and saying their part out loud in proper rhythm. Later I took my written notes and input everything into Finale and along with it, I produce several symbols to represent the choreographed portions of the routines.
You've also been director of The Stairwell Carollers, an a capella choir now in its 37th year. In fact, you've always been the director. How did it start? What's the secret to its longevity?
The Stairwell Carollers started as a small group of 4 to 7 University of Ottawa students We would sing Christmas carols for peers cramming for exams in mid to late November. We would walk into one of the campus residences, take the elevator to the top floor, open the stairwell door and start singing carols in 4 parts. Students would hear us, they'd come out of their room and would follow us down the stairwell going floor to floor. By the time we'd get to the bottom, we'd have quite a crowd listening, enjoying this small respite from studying and making request for their favorite carols along the way. We would also bring this caroling out into the streets of Ottawa, on buses, in malls, pretty much everywhere.
In 1977, while singing in Bayshore Shopping Centre, Gordon Atkinson, host of the former CFMO - FM sister station to CFRA - heard us singing and asked if we'd mind performing on air. CFMO happened to be doing the Xmas Cheer Broadcast live from the mall that day. We said "Sure, we'd love to". As we were about to go on air, he asked us what the name of the group was. We didn't have a name at the time but one of the singers said "The Stairwell Carollers" which seemed appropriate considering our singing in the residence stairwell roots. The name stuck. Over the years, the group grew ergonomically until CFMO produced a vinyl album called "Christmas with The Stairwell Carollers". The album was to raise fund for Ronald McDonald House in Ottawa. Over $15000 was raised and that started us on a journey of producing our own CDs and raising over $71,000 in donations to local Ottawa/Gatineau charities, and in scholarships to students going to University in music.
Our longevity can be attributed to a persistent director and a membership who loves to sing and give back to the community. We have a very strong steering committee and many of our singers have been singing for over 30 years with the group.
At what point were you certain about going into music as a career?
That happened at the end of my grade 13 year of High School. We had a grade 13 back in the 70's. Initially I had intended to study astronomy, but my love of music was stronger than my love of science and after being accepted after my audition at the University of Ottawa, it just seemed like I had found my place. Teaching has always been a passion of mine at an early age, so teaching music seemed the correct path to follow.
You've been writing for the peace tower carillon recently – how did that develop?
Andrea McCrady – our Dominion Carilloneur – was looking to perform a program by a Canadian composer. She happened to stumble upon one of my songs performed by my choir on our YouTube channel. She was very pleased to find out that I was a local and so she contacted me by email and asked if I would consent to her arranging the piece for the carillon and performing it. I was honoured of course and immediately provided her with the music.
Several weeks later, my composition "Mourning Dove" was played on the peace tower carillon at the tree lighting ceremony on parliament hill and later in early December of 2012. Since then, two more of my Xmas arrangements were played in Dec 2013 and Mourning Dove has played four more times this past summer as part of the carilloneur's concert series.
Any advice for budding composers, conductors, singers, and/ or educators?
It's always a good idea to keep an open mind and be persistent. People can produce beautiful stuff as long as you guide them in the right direction, show them how it's done and give them loads of encouragement and positive criticism.
When's the next concert for Stairwell Carollers?
We start our first performance end of November. We have 6 concerts booked for this 2014 fall season and our main ones are at Knox Presbyterian Church, 120 Lisgar Street on Friday Dec 12th and St Columba Church, 24 Sandridge Road on Wednesday Dec 17th. For a full list of our performances go here.