“At CN I had successfully climbed the ladder, maybe even broke some glass ceilings for a black woman,” said Carol Bernard, reminiscing about her past as senior manager at Canadian National Railway. Bernard, born in Montreal to Jamaican parents, has no regrets but it was a long winding road to where she is today: directing Montreal’s Jireh Gospel Choir.
“People are surprised when they learn that my first degree was in mathematics,” said Bernard, who sees her mathematics background as an asset, if not a necessity. “Music is science as well as art. Just like in mathematics, where the answer is right or wrong, the note that a singer sings is either right [on pitch] or wrong.”
Her analytical skills have been invaluable for her position with CN as much as choir director. It’s been more than a decade since her transition from day-job to living the dream. Bernard was recently informed of her selection as one of Black History Month’s candidates for their 2013 calendar.
“Anybody who knew me knew that I was more passionate about gospel music than I was about transporting goods,” explained Bernard.
Armed with the knowledge that it was time for her to follow her passion and the skills she gathered along the way, she left her job at CN and has since helped create Montreal’s most authentic and talented gospel choir, Jireh.
Named after the Hebrew word for ‘provider’ (in the Bible, ‘Jehovah Jireh’ is used for God, meaning ‘God our Provider’), Jireh Gospel choir provides a dynamic ensemble of top notch vocal talent with a distinct French-Canadian flavour.
“I don’t want to live anywhere else,” said Bernard of her hometown, Montreal. “I love this city for the people, the food, the unique European/French flavour and the passion for the arts.”
But most of all, Bernard feels that Montreal needs Jireh because “so many people here do not consider themselves religious and need to hear the message [of God] through gospel music.”
Despite the general trend of people turning away from the church, Jireh is able to transcend the rigid idea of religious music by mixing traditional and contemporary styles, from jazz, R&B, classical music and even rock. They also perform original compositions, including the song “Quoi qu’il arrive,” which won them the Gospel Music Association of Canada’s Gospel Song of the Year in 2012.
“The word ‘religious’ has the connotation of dos and don’ts,” said Bernard, insisting that what gospel music can offer transcends rules. Instead, it offers the listener the experience of “real joy, hope, love and peace.”
With Bernard at the helm, Jireh has accomplished more than she could ever have imagined.
“[From] performing with Cirque du Soleil at the Montreal International Jazz Festival in front of more than 200,000 people, as well as the prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, to producing a platinum selling CD with popular Quebec singer Mario Pelchat,” said Bernard, her face lighting up.
But for those who are considering a career in the music industry, Bernard has a warning: “don’t do it unless you are prepared to eat peanut butter sandwiches or mac and cheese. In other words, don’t do it for the money, fame or glory. Do it if you can’t see yourself doing anything else with your life.”
Carol Bernard and the Jireh Gospel Choir will appear at ONE: Christmas Gospel Celebration 2012 at Theatre Outremont on Dec. 15 at 8 p.m. Tickets are 25$ (20$ for students).