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Meet Elaine Kinghorn: Volunteer Chat

Elaine Kinghorn is a Kokopelli volunteer extraordinaire!

When young Jennifer Kinghorn (now McMillan) joined 'Nuf Sed in 1999, and then Kokopelli in 2000, she also brought her mother into our choir family. For two decades, Elaine Kinghorn has been one of our most dedicated and cherished volunteers. A longtime board member, Elaine became best known for capably running the box office at Kokopelli events. Behind the scenes, Elaine also found a million other ways to contribute to our organization.

Tell us about your earliest involvement in Kokopelli.
Well, I think it was around 2002. I used to help Louise Ludwig now and again, because she was just overwhelmed at times—collecting for tours, especially. She couldn’t come to every rehearsal. I told her, “You know, I’m not that far from rehearsal. I can pop in and collect for tours.” So, I’d just collect payments for her. And, the next thing I knew, I was involved selling tickets at the door.
I enjoy choral music, and where else can you go to get the best choral music? Once I got involved, I’d go and listen to it every week.

And how has your involvement with Kokopelli impacted your life?
Oh, goodness gracious. The tours alone. I mean, can you imagine? In my wildest dreams, I never dreamed I’d be going to Africa—not once, but twice.
And meeting the people in the choral community. Like Anne McIntyre. My gosh, I never had such a good time in my life, as when I travelled with her in Africa. And getting to know the staff, like [Koko bookkeeper] Maxine. Who could have brought a nicer person than that into my life? I’ve learned so much from her. The two of us worked together so well, for many many years.
It has impacted my life tremendously. If I hadn’t loved it so much, I wouldn’t have participated. It gave me something to do when I needed something to do.
All the people I’ve met! Hanging around in Africa for not one trip, but for two trips with Scott [Leithead]’s parents. And all the other parents, like the Olson family.
Man, I have been one lucky person. To have all this given to me. Well, not given to me, exactly, but I certainly took advantage!

Do you have any favourite memories? Something that sticks out as a real highlight?
I have so many favourite memories. But, the best one of all was probably [future son-in-law] John proposing to [daughter] Jennifer when we were in Africa. That was in 2007.
I think there were actually two proposals that year. Might even have been three.
Jennifer had been in Africa for a while—she was the exchange chorister that year. She was living with [Mascato founder] Mrs. Venter.
John decided that he would come to Africa that summer for the trip with Kokopelli. He had been away from Jennifer for several months by then, and this was killing him. He came over to our house, and he was the most nervous person in the whole wide world. I knew he was going to ask for our blessings. And, sure enough, that’s what he did.
So then, I think the very first night we were in Africa, we all went out to a nice restaurant, the Lighthouse. John was so nervous, and Jennifer kept saying, ‘What on earth is wrong with you?’ He knew he was going to ask her that evening. He was just as nervous as nervous can be.
But it all went down that evening, and the rest is history!

How has the choir experience affected your family—not just Jennifer, but now the next generation as well? What’s it like seeing your two granddaughters out there where Jen used to be?
You’ve seen little Alexis perform—that little girl can’t stand still if her life depended on it. (chuckles).  Jennifer was always such a little goody-two-shoes when she was in children’s choir. But Alexis has grown up with Kokopelli, and she knows you have to move—and she moves all the time! But I do love seeing both the grandchildren. I love every minute of it. All of the little ones! I just love all of them.

Meet Aidan Johnston: Why is it important to give back?

Aidan Johnston (née Ferguson) as the Sandman in Edmonton Opera’s 2019 production of Hansel & Gretel
Photo credit: Nanc Price

“It’s so important for me to give back to something that had been such an instrumental part of my youth.”

Aidan Johnston has performed in operas all over the world, after completing two degrees in music at McGill. Currently she is living in Victoria and loves her job at the Children’s Health Foundation of Vancouver Island. Below are some excerpts from our conversation with Aidan at the end of January about the formative role that Kokopelli played in her career and in her life.

How did you get involved with Kokopelli?

I first met Scott Leithead when I was a kid singing in the Edmonton Children's Choir and dreamed of being in one of his choirs. That dream became a reality when I joined Edmonton Youth Choir (EYC). During that first year at EYC, I was going through a challenging time in my life, and Scott suggested that it might help to come to a Kokopelli rehearsal.  To say that it helped would be an understatement, that invitation saved my life. I instantly found a second family that led me to pursue music as a career.  

What was it about Kokopelli that influenced your career?

Up until my experiences with Kokopelli, I loved choir, but didn't really realize the power of music and what it could achieve.  It was by seeing an audience moved by a chord, a line, a song, that I began to understand the transformative power of music. I was suddenly able to communicate with people in a different way, offer them respite from whatever was happening in their day and I wanted to explore that further.

One of the greatest lessons Kokopelli taught me was the importance of making sure those around you, on or off stage, know they are valued and appreciated. Like many teenagers, I was consumed with anxiety, except when I was with my Kokopelli family. Kokopelli was a place where everyone, not just choristers, but every parent, every audience member and every other choir we met was valued and shown gratitude for their contribution to Kokopelli. That connection and community is the reason I pursued a career in music. Even after working in the professional opera world, I come back to Kokopelli rehearsals and concerts to reconnect with that "why”.

Describe a magical moment with Kokopelli. 

We were singing "True Colours" in Banff, and everything was there… the emotion, tuning, blend... you name it. I will never forget seeing Scott's face light up as we hit a beautifully resonant, perfectly tuned 1000 part chord and little did we realize, at the same moment, he saw a giant rainbow appear behind us! I still get goosebumps thinking about it.

As a singer or audience member there is always at least one of those magical moments in every Kokopelli concert from one of the choirs!  We would be talking for hours if I mentioned all the reasons Kokopelli is special… but I think the main reasons are the support, community, love and of course the music.


What are the great secrets of the Kokopelli choirs? What do you wish that others knew about Kokopelli?

Being in one of the choirs is not just about learning to sing, it’s about learning about life…relationships, pain, friendships, beauty. For me, and I don’t say this lightly, it saved my life and it changed it. 

I just think people should know about this gem that is changing the youth in the Edmonton community. The more informed, accepting, loved and cherished a youth or child feels, the more likely they are to become “who knows what” in the world and spread that love elsewhere. 

I also really admire the adults who are putting themselves in a vulnerable position and want to try singing. It’s a comfortable safe space where people can go and do that.

Why is it important to give back to Kokopelli?

I try to live my life (as much as possible) from a place of gratitude, and I believe you have to give back to the things that were given to you.  It's amazing to see the growth in Kokopelli from one single choir to seven choirs.  Giving back is a gesture of encouragement to keep going and changing lives.  It doesn't matter whether it's time, talent or treasure, I challenge each person who has been touched by Kokopelli to give back in your own way!

We Will Have Choir!

If a choir is only about singing and performing
- there will be no choir for a while.
If choir is about:  
teaching and learning
cultural exploration and transmission
- we will find a way to have choir.
~ Kellie Walsh (Honourary Patron, 2020)

This coming fall, we will have choir. It may not be quite the same (what facet of our lives is?), but it will provide us all with a dose of normalcy, of community, and of music. This fall we’ll do our utmost to provide the mental and physical benefits of choral music while respecting the importance of our health and families. We also hope to gradually transition back toward in-person rehearsals and performances, provided the evolving situation permits.

And so, as we reach optimistically ahead toward a post-COVID future, we’re also thrilled to share the plans we have in place for this fall.

Tamariki and Kikimasu (ages 5-12)

For our younger choirs, we’re offering weekly virtual gatherings to promote vocal development, musical literacy, confidence, and creativity. Membership will include a personal music-making kit. For Tamariki (ages 7-9 -- 5-7 year-olds welcome with parental involvement!), we’re thrilled to welcome Amy Voyer as our virtual instructor (check out Amy’s amazing YouTube channel here).

Kikimasu’s vibrant conductor Carmen So (plus an online accompanist) likewise has exciting plans to keep her choristers engaged and excited, including two or three virtual choir experiences.

Shumayela (ages 12-16)

In addition to Shumayela’s weekly virtual gatherings, conductor Kim Denis (with support from Tova Olson) plans to host monthly in-person sessions for non-vocal musical activities (body percussion, boomwhackers, etc.). Singers will receive small-group vocal instruction either in-person (in a very safe environment!) or online. This combination will continue the choir’s vocal and technical growth while maintaining its close-knit group identity.

Kokopelli (ages 14-24)

Kokopelli, our flagship youth choir has innovative plans for the coming season under Artistic Director Scott Leithead and Associate Conductor Kitbielle Pasagui. Along with Òran, Kokopelli looks forward to taking part in the Bridge Choral Collective. This cross-Canada choral collaboration will connect our choirs with colleagues coast to coast, with guest artists every month, and with educational opportunities from post-secondary institutions. Kokopelli will gather online twice weekly, with the goal of an outdoor springtime concert with our adult choirs (provided  in-person rehearsals eventually become possible) or some other capstone event.

Our adult choirs (ages 18 and up)

Our three adult choirs (Òran, Vacilando, and ChandraTala) will gather in a variety of ways: virtual weekly meetings, monthly in person musical (non-vocal gatherings), and small-group virtual vocal coaching sessions. (Òran will also join Kokopelli in the Bridge Choral Collective.) Again, the choirs hope to prepare for an outdoor spring concert.

Many thanks to our artistic staff, our administrative staff, and our choristers and families, for keeping the spirit of Kokopelli Choirs vibrantly active in this coming unprecedented season.

COVID-19 Forces Cancellation of 2019-2020 Season Closers

Dear Kokopelli Choirs supporters and friends,

As you know, it’s been a tumultuous month for our organization. Although we desperately miss getting together to make music, we’re thrilled at the many ingenious strategies our artistic staff have devised to connect with their choirs online. There has been no shortage of love, learning, and fellowship.

We are also proud of our board’s commitment to carry on paying our amazing artistic and administrative team, in recognition of the dedication and loyalty they have always shown us in better times. They continue to work hard and be innovative in moving our programming online.

That said, given the ongoing crisis, the board has made the difficult decision to cancel all remaining concerts planned for this season. If the crisis eases drastically in the next couple of months, you may see some type of performance this summer, featuring at least a few of our ensembles.

Please understand that we’re deeply disappointed too. We live to share music, with each other and with our audience. We're staggered to think our performance season is over.

Because we are a community nonprofit, these cancellations cause us fiscal pain as well. We rely on concert revenues. We will need help from our community—at least, those who are in a position to contribute. 

We're also taking time to look forward to brighter days ahead. We continue to monitor the evolving situation in the hope our 2020-2021 season can begin as planned in September.

With love and music in our hearts,

Kokopelli Choirs

Help carry our song to the world!

We have thrilling, mind-blowing news, but we need your help to make it happen.

Kokopelli Youth Choir has been invited to perform as a featured choir at the IFCM World Choral Expo (WCE) (, taking place in Lisbon, Portugal in July 2019. The WCE is attended by thousands of choral singers and conductors from across the globe. The festival’s artistic committee selects just 6-10 world-renowned choirs as featured guests. We are deeply honoured to be the only choir representing Canada.

Clearly, our young artists have built an international reputation for their genuine, thoughtful, and artistic performances. We at Kokopelli Choirs are incredibly proud of their hard work, and we can’t wait to share it with the world.

As you can imagine, for an event (and audience) with this level of prestige, it is essential that every singer is able to participate, so that Kokopelli can put its best foot forward. This is not a tour; it is not a pleasure trip. Our singers are university students and high school students with part-time jobs. Some of them contribute to monthly living costs for their families, and some are from families brand-new to Canada. Others are here on their own from other parts of Canada. In short, this trip is a massive opportunity, but also a significant sacrifice.

Kokopelli Choirs are determined to help make this opportunity possible for the choir. It is our goal to cover the flight costs for each singer.

Flights are $1500. We have 50 singers. Therefore, we are aiming for $1500 x 50—a total goal of $75,000. It's ambitious, but these singers have worked so hard, and truly, they deserve our support. Choristers plan to contribute about $1200 each, of their own money, for other tour expenses.

Please consider sponsoring a singer with a donation of $1500. If $1500 is not possible for you, we encourage you to donate what you can. Truly, every dollar helps.

The Kokopelli Choir Association is a registered charity and can accept tax deductible donations and issue tax receipts. You can donate in a number of ways:
  • Online at This is our preferred method, because ATB waives fees, provides tax receipts, and adds matching funds to many of the donations. Find us by typing ‘Kokopelli’ in the search box. Enter ‘World Choir Expo’ in the comment box.
  • By cheque: Make your cheque out to Kokopelli Choir Association, leave it with your favourite chorister or mail it to PO Box 68110 Bonnie Doon, Edmonton, AB T6C 4N6
  • By e-transfer to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
If donating by cheque or e-transfer, be sure to include your name and address in the message box so we can send you a receipt. In all donation cases, write ‘World Choir Expo’ in either the comment box or memo line so we know where to direct your donation.

With much love, and many thanks,