The Sooke Community Choir is bringing a performance they call The Spirit Train to Qualicum Beach on Saturday, May 20. — Submitted by the Sooke Community Choir

Spirit Train whistling into Qualicum Beach

Sooke choir performing African American spirituals, Beach Boys and more

You might think The Beach Boys and African-American spirituals don’t have too much to do with each other, but Bruce Ruddell, artistic director of the Sooke Community Choir, begs to differ.

The choir is bringing their Spirit Train performance to St. Mark’s Anglican Church in Qualicum Beach on Saturday, May 20.

It will be the group’s only Spirit Train performance outside of Sooke, and promises to be a unique and exciting one, said Ruddell.

The performance brings together train songs and African-American spirituals along with pieces from Woody Guthrie, The Beach Boys and Billy Joel.

“It is varied,” said Ruddell of the program, “but it does have some very strong themes.”

Those include references to trains and travel, as well as a broad understanding of what a spiritual is.

Ruddell said his interest in spirituals stems back to his work with Leon Bibb: a black American singer and civil rights activist who quit the Ed Sullivan Show for Canada, where he could speak more freely about black rights, explained Ruddell.

“He taught me a lot about the spirituals, the history of them and how they were developed,” he said.

“(Black slaves) could only speak English, and they were only allowed to read from the Bible. And so they used to gather at the far end of the plantations and with their music, they would tell stories — come up with these lyrics using biblical stories but based on their plight and their problems. And so that’s how the birth of that spiritual came about,” Ruddell said.

While this morphed into Christian gospel music, he said the same spiritual energy can be found in songs like Good Vibrations.

“Brian Wilson’s (a member of The Beach Boys) mother always used to talk to him about the vibrations of the universe and the movement of the universe, so there is a lot of spirit. That song is actually an incredibly spiritual song. The lyric is very simple and mundane, but the feeling of that, the good vibrations… it ties in in that way, said Ruddell.

The Sooke Community Choir’s performance in Qualicum Beach takes place Saturday, May 20 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at St. Mark’s Anglican Church. Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors and free for those under 16.

The choir is returning to this area after a very well-received performance in Parksville last year, said Ruddell.

“So everybody wanted to go up in that area again.”