Some histories of Lacombe’s memorable singers

With a voice of singing. That was the way the Lacombe community recently bid goodbye to Noreen Hopkins

HOWARD FREDEEN

With a voice of singing. That was the way the Lacombe community recently bid goodbye to Noreen Hopkins, the last representative of the Hopkins family to reside in Lacombe.

Noreen came to Lacombe circa 1951 to begin her career as a school teacher.

She was single but her unmarried state did not last long for she caught the eye of every young bachelor in the community. Trevor Hopkins, who shared her love of music was the successful suitor and they started life in double harness  In 1952.

While raising their family of four, Noreen juggled teaching elementary school, teaching music at school and privately, completing training with the Royal Conservatory of Music, accompanying soloists at functions and competitions and singing in choral groups. One of these groups staged two Gilbert and Sullivan operettas with both Noreen and Trevor taking solo roles.

Both of Trev’s parents were born and raised in Wales and singing was as natural to the family as breathing.

Trev’s father I.B.T (Ivor Benjaman Trevor) Hopkins, known to all as Hoppy Hopkins, was a member of a Welsh male chorus and a veteran of desert warfare in the Second World War. On demobilization he chose to try his hand at farming in Alberta. Margaret, Trev’s mother, spent much of her youth in Patagonia and when her family left South America they came to Canada and a homestead at Bangor, Saskatchewan. After her marriage to Hoppy he decided to try the meat trade – a decision that led them to Lacombe circa 1946.

Many will remember Hoppy’s butcher shop on Nanton St. and the Labrador the family used to power the small sleigh for winter delivery of meat parcels.

They will also remember Hoppy’s powerful bass voice in the choir of St. Andrew’s United Church and the voices of his wife Margaret and three of their children Leona, Trevor and David.

From her teenage years Leona was the choir’s lead contralto. She also pinch-hit as accompanist and served for extended periods of time as choir leader.

Many will also remember Hoppy as the lead bass in the Lacombe Male Chorus and the duets he sang with fellow Welshman Jack Davies. In Welsh of course. We couldn’t understand a word but the beautiful harmony sufficed.

The Lacombe Male Chorus, in addition to presenting concerts at many venues in Central Alberta, also participated in provincial competitions. Circa 1957 en route to the music festival in Medicine Hat my passengers related stories of past singing experiences.

Hoppy, a member of a Welsh male chorus all of whom served in his battalion, told of the concerts that chorus presented for the troops during the Second World War. The desert venue was prepared by rolling out a large carpet to cover the sand. Then a grand piano would be lifted into center stage and the choir would assemble around it.

Can you imagine the challenge presented to keep that instrument safe and secure from the sand that would be stirred by every capricious breeze, or whipped to a frenzy should a wind develop?

Jack Davies added his own story about a music festival in Wales. After the competition he proceeded to his next commitment of that afternoon – defence of his crown as welter-weight champion of the British army. He ran cross-country 26 miles to the venue. He retained the crown.

Those were two tough Welsh laddies in our male chorus.

Dave Roger, our conductor had his own stories of practices with a Melfort Quartet that included Jon Vickers – practices were held in the bathroom to avoid disturbing the bridge parties his wife was hosting.

Some may remember the voice of Vickers, one of the first Canadian vocalists to rise to international fame.

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