The founder of the Valley Festival Singers recently passed away.
Rudy Baerg, who died on Sept. 17 at the age of 87, left a rich musical legacy in Abbotsford.
The most tangible part of Baerg’s multi-faceted contribution is the Valley Festival Singers, a community choir he founded in 1976 and which continues to perform music in the Fraser Valley.
Baerg was born in Crowfoot, Alta., on Nov. 29, 1931. Crop failures during the later years of the Depression forced the family to move to Coaldale, Alta., where irrigation farming promised a more reliable source of income.
Baerg played the mandolin as he made music with his parents and siblings, and then played clarinet in the high school band.
When he attended Coaldale Bible School, a teacher saw his potential and encouraged him to pursue further education in music.
Baerg qualified for an ARCT in voice while he was earning a bachelor of religious education degree at the Mennonite Brethren Bible College in Winnipeg.
It was there that he met Hildegarde Hein, who became his loving wife and dearest friend.
Baerg led the music department at Winkler Bible School for several years. In 1961, he moved to Ontario to study at Waterloo Lutheran University.
After earning a degree in history, he was offered a job at the Mennonite Educational Institute in Abbotsford.
A highlight of those years was winning first prize at the Vancouver Kiwanis Music Festival with the school’s concert choir, besting the perennial winner of the festival.
Baerg earned a master of education degree from Western Washington University while taking summer courses there.
In 1968 he was hired to lead the music department at the Mennonite Brethren Bible Institute (now known as Columbia Bible College). For 29 years, in what he called his dream job, he led choirs, taught music theory and history, tutored voice students, and taught academic courses.
After Menno Neufeld’s Bethel Choir folded in 1974, Baerg responded to the desire for more great choral music in the community by founding the Valley Festival Singers.
Their first concert featured Bach’s motet Jesu Meine Freude on Good Friday in 1976.
He conducted the choir until his retirement after 25 years. The choir is currently led by Dr. Joel Tranquilla.
In 1993, Baerg joined the board of the Valley Concert Society and served with distinction in several roles until his death.
Baerg deeply valued and was committed to the life of his church. When he first arrived in Abbotsford, he was enlisted to direct the choir of the Clearbrook Mennonite Brethren Church.
He continued in that role at Bakerview Church after it was formed in1965, until his involvement with the travelling music groups of the Mennonite Brethren Bible Institute limited his availability on Sundays.
He continued to serve at Valley CrossWay Church, his most recent church home. Sadly he was unable to complete his final commitment to sing a solo that had been scheduled for two days before his death.
Baerg loved to travel, and that became an integral part of his musical career. He took his Bible College choir on tours around B.C., across Canada, and into the U.S.
He drove the school’s bus on many of these tours, an extension of his career as a Greyhound bus driver over many summers.
He also took several choirs to Europe and on one memorable trip to Russia. He served three times as the musical resource person on Mennonite Heritage Cruises on the Dnieper River in Ukraine.
Baerg and his wife also served eight terms of up to three months each at the Mennonite Centre in Molochansk, Ukraine.
The organization provides humanitarian aid, addressing economic, medical, educational, and social needs.
He also volunteered for many years in the local MCC Thrift Store, providing key leadership for some of that time.
Baerg was recognized in 2012 for his service to the community when he was awarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal.
Baerg and Hildegarde raised four children: Val (Wes) Giesbrecht, Ron (Julie), Randy (Sharon), and Ken (Betty). They have enjoyed a close relationship with numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.