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Kathaumixw billeting results in lasting relationships

International choral festival organizers look for 96 pillows
TINY TEA CUPS: Looking at a gift from their 2014 International Choral Kathaumixw billets brings back poignant memories for sisters Vicki Pierobon [left] and Mary Carey. They will welcome young choir members into their home again this year. Joyce Carlson photo

Words to a children’s song, “two-four-six-eight, who do you appreciate?” resonate with two sisters and staff at Powell River Academy of Music.

Prior to every International Choral Kathaumixw, there is a call for families to billet singers from overseas choirs. That is happening now in preparation for the festival that runs July 5 to 9.

“Currently, we are looking for 96 pillows for members of children’s choirs,” said Kathaumixw hospitality coordinator Valerie Thompson. Translated that means up to 48 homes as youngsters are placed in groups of two or more.

“Stories about relationships that have lasted for many years are constantly shared with us,” added Thompson. “We have people who have billeted for years, and some only started last Kathaumixw.”

Vicki Pierobon and her sister Mary Carey attended a concert at Max Cameron Theatre in 2014 and were asked if they would take billets from a Taiwanese youth choir. “We said we could take two girls,” said Carey.

Very quickly that number went to four, then six and finally they ended up with eight. “It was wall to wall kids,” she said, “and we all had a very good time.”

Ironically, they had gone to a meeting years before regarding billeting. “They apparently didn’t need us and 15 years went by,” said Carey.

There will be no gap again as the sisters have agreed to take eight billets for 2016’s festival, this time from a South African choir.

For their initial billeting experience the sisters purchased reusable lunch bags they filled with teddy bears, Canadian flags, candies and mementos. Then the bags were used for the girls’ lunches each day. “We’ll do the same this time,” said Carey.

One of their favourite memories from 2014 was receiving a call from a billet’s father who was living in Alberta. He said he wanted to spend some time with his daughter.

“She was one of our youngest, only 10 years old,” explained Carey. “He thought he would find a motel room and we laughed. We told him he could sleep on our couch in the living room. He was wonderful to have with us. When the girls came home at 10:30 pm after evening concerts, he would cook them Taiwanese noodles because they were so hungry.”

Children have no problem sleeping on mats on the floor and the house’s lower level also has a big bed, a hide-a-bed, recliners, a bathroom and kitchen area.

When Carey and Pierodon had to leave for a family wedding before the gala closing concert, two friends who speak Mandarin offered to come and stay at the house. Another friend offered translation assistance as well.

The sisters often attended Kathaumixw in the past and hosted friends for the festival. “No room for friends now,” said Carey.

Carey said she loves the international component of Kathaumixw and is a supporter of Powell River Diversity Initiative. “I love all things cultural and am passionate about the elimination of prejudice in the world,” she said.

Carey has worked internationally in Guyana and the Philippines. Along with her sister, she loves to travel; they have a 10-year plan that includes a trip to Thailand in December.

Both she and her sister spent their careers working with children and youth.

Asked about her favourite part of Kathaumixw, Carey said she is “particularly partial” to children and youth choirs, the folk singing competition and Friday night’s awards concert.

“I also think about the organization and volunteers, and how they pull together such an amazing week,” she said.

As for Pierodon, she loves the variety of choirs and “I most appreciate seeing how different conductors utilize the voices in their choirs.”

The sisters said they are not a musical family, but they sang a lot as youngsters. “We both have music appreciation,” said Pierodon, adding that she currently does djembe drumming, “for the brain though, not for the music.”

To experience billeting international choir members, go to, visit Powell River Academy of Music at 7280 Kemano Street or call 604.485.9633.