December 2016 | Profile by Jane Ledwell
There’s lots to be said for waving your arms and having things happen,” says choral conductor Margot Rejskind. “It’s like magic.
“And,” she adds with a gleam in her eye, “the being in charge thing is fun.” The magic is “to take ten regular or mediocre voices and, relatively shortly, bring it into something extraordinary.”
With multiple degrees in choral conducting, Margot leads the venerable Summerside Community Choir. As a “birthday present for her husband,” she recently began Forte Men’s Choir, which began small enough that the men referred to jokingly it as a “covert operation.” She has also been engaged as founding conductor of the new Tapestries Community Choir, housed at the Baha’i Centre, a “pan-religious” choir “to speak to all the communities on the Island.”
Margot is passionate about the transformative effects of singing together. “Singing is a direct way of speaking to one another,” she says. “It’s such a fundamental human activity. We sing when we’re happy. We sing when we mourn. We sing when we protest, when we celebrate, when we put our children to sleep. We get to embody it—quite literally—and anyone can do it.”
Singing in choirs comes from “a thirst for unity and for community,” she says. “Since we started, it has been feeling more and more appropriate to make beautiful art together as a group.” To Margot, it also needs to be fun. “I like rehearsals to be fun—it’s what I do for a living, so we might as well laugh!”
Margot measures her time in Christmas seasons, the greatest season of singing together in our culture, and this Christmas will be her fourth on PEI.
A few years past, Margot and her family were living in Toronto, where she was on faculty at the Royal Conservatory of Music. “My family had a couple of rough years,” she says. “We were considering what we were doing and why—and we decided we didn’t want to live that way. We wanted to live in a community where we could be more in touch with the community around us, and where we could be home for supper.” Margot’s mother moved to PEI with the family.
Margot has not been disappointed with her move, and in addition to working with choirs, she teaches musicians at UPEI and trains singers in her private studio. “I’m part of building the future Island music community,” she says with great happiness.
“There’s a real musicality on the Island that boggles the mind,” she says. And Islanders, she adds with a smile, “love to find beautiful things and show them off—so there’s a real openness to choirs.”
She says, “I love doing things with really accomplished singers—but there is real power in community singing that I wouldn’t want to give up.”
In the wake of the U.S. election, Margot reminded me, “Raising your voice with other people gives you belonging through building community. You can see that throughout human history.
“We are cutting off their voices when we tell people to leave singing to people who are better at it than others. Singing is a basic human need.” And if choral singing is not for you, she says, “It’s never a loss to be exposed to music, because you can go out and appreciate it. We need audiences, too. We always enjoy our rehearsals, but we love to share music with people too, to make them feel what a composer wanted them to feel—maybe 500 or 600 years ago. That’s an extraordinary bond with someone across time.”
Margot is passionate about the power of music. “Singing together changes your spirit. It changes who we are as people and as a community. What do have if we don’t have each other?” To Margot Rejskind, singing is a way of moving past fear of otherness, and singing together is a form of organizing. “We need to start singing. They can’t tear gas you when you are singing. We own a community through common songs. It’s a big part of keeping people buoyant.