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From university romance to charitable work: The lovely story of the Stairwell Carollers

By Alejandro Bustos on December 5, 2013



If you listen to the moving songs of the Stairwell Carollers Choir, you may feel your heart glow a little brighter.  There is a good reason for this –  the local group, which has been singing for more than 35 years, was literally founded on love.

Back in 1975, Holly Massie was a theatre student at the University of Ottawa.  In the same student residence where she lived, she met music undergraduate Pierre Massie, who is today her husband. From this campus connection a romance was born, as well as the founding of a choir that carolled for free in the city during the holiday season.

“(Pierre) had an idea of spreading the spirit of Christmas,” recalls Holly, as she describes the beginning of the choir’s mission of spreading joy through music.

The ensemble’s name comes from the group’s early days when they would sing on the stairwells at the University of Ottawa.  From about a dozen singers in the 1970s who spread Christmas cheer, the group has grown to 26 current members who have supported many organizations in the National Capital Region.

In regard to their charitable work, since 1998 the choir has collected over $49,000 for charities in the Ottawa-Gatineau region through the sale of their seven CDs, concert tickets and cookbooks.

Photo of Stairwell Carollers taken by Holly Massie

Photo of Stairwell Carollers taken by Holly Massie

They have also awarded $12,500 in undergraduate scholarships to students studying music at a Canadian university, in addition to helping numerous non-profit and charitable groups raise funds through the choir’s CD consignment program.

“It was really organic, it was natural,” says Holly, when asked how the group evolved from a student ensemble in the 1970s to an impressive troupe that has been involved in numerous fundraising efforts.

For this holiday season, the choir has scheduled a series of concerts, including a performance on Saturday, December 14, at the Knox Presbyterian Church, (120 Lisgar St. at Elgin), where they will be presenting a $2,000 cheque to the Youville Center.  A second concert is scheduled for Wednesday, December 18, at St. Columba Anglican Church (24 Sandridge Rd).

In addition, between 5:30 and 5:55 pm today (December 5), two of Pierre Massie’s arrangements for popular carols will be played on the Peace Tower bells as part of the tree lighting ceremony on Parliament Hill.

For those who want to attend one of their performances, you can expect a wide range of Christmas music.  “Our show is a mix of the renaissance period, the 19th century … and modern works,” says Holly.  “There are really soft pieces and some that are really loud, but it’s all Christmassy.

The Stairwell Carollers are playing the following concerts this holiday season: 

  • Saturday, December 7, St. Stephen’s Church (212 Old Chelsea Rd) Chelsea, (QC), 7:30 pm.
  • Sunday, December 8, National Gallery of Canada (380 Sussex) Ottawa, 3 pm, in the Garden Court.
  • Saturday, December 14, Knox Presbyterian Church (120 Lisgar St) Ottawa, 7:30 pm.
  • Wednesday, December 18, St. Columba Anglican Church (24 Sandridge Rd) Ottawa, 7:30 pm.

Tickets for the December 14 and 18 concerts can be bought online on the Stairwell Carollers web site. All other concert tickets are handled by the particular venues.