By Mary-Lou Montgrain
The Birth Pains of 2016
I was devastated when my local community choir voted to fold after 42 years because, during my 10 years as a member, I had made close friends. Others like me who wanted to continue singing made plans to do so, by forming a steering committee. I will be forever grateful to Joan Plume, who arranged free space for us at her church, where she was in charge of the music program. She generously offered to conduct us until we found a permanent director, and permitted us to borrow music from the church’s large music library. Before long we had assembled 30 singers, agreed on “Chorus York” for our name, and begun the search for a director.
After auditioning several conductors who came highly recommended by fellow musicians, we cast our votes. Then we faced the next challenge: our new conductor led several other choirs, one of which rehearsed the same evening we did. To make matters worse, our free church space was available only at that very same time. So, we had to find a new time and place for rehearsals.
Meanwhile, Jessica Kun, director of the Richmond Hill Philharmonic Orchestra, invited us to perform with her musicians at the annual “Last Night at the Proms.” We jumped at the chance! Not only were we eager to perform and publicize our fledgling choir, but we would also have our début in the beautiful new Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts (RHCPA). At the appointed time, we were ready: dressed in black pants and skirts, white blouses and blue scarves borrowed from a local church group, carrying our music in black binders from the Dollar Store. We were nervous, but excited, especially when it came time to perform our piece with orchestral accompaniment. Wow! What a thrilling opportunity it was for our new choir to sing the Vivaldi “Gloria” and John Rutter’s “For the Beauty of the Earth” to a full house.
By September we had managed to find a new venue that suited the schedule of our new director, Stéphane Potvin. Needing to rehearse when he was available, we changed our meeting time from Monday to Tuesday. Being required to pay him, we raised our choir fees. Not surprisingly, these changes inconvenienced some choristers whom we subsequently lost. However, with the help of Maestro Potvin, we obtained registered charity status and received a few donations to flesh out our skimpy budget. Necessity being the Mother of Invention, we also decided to rehearse a cappella and hire an accompanist only for concerts.
Getting into full swing
Our first concert was scheduled for December and aptly named Our First Nowell. A local recording company offered to make a DVD of our performance free of charge, with the goal of selling it at a later date. Given the success of the Christmas concert, we produced two more concerts, in early and late spring of 2017. Once again, we were invited to perform with the orchestra for the final concert of the season.
The following year we were hired to sing at few local events. Getting into full swing, we organized a Valentine’s concert and fundraiser at the RHCPA, featuring local performers and a silent auction. For the next few years, the Valentine’s fundraiser became a regular event, as did the end-of-season collaborative concert with the symphony. As we headed into our fourth season we had plans to connect with arts schools in the area, to continue to promote local talent. We also had plans to find a donor to establish a scholarship for one of our local school choirs, which, after successful trials, would be featured in our annual spring concert.
The best laid plans
Everything was going as planned, until the pandemic hit in February 2019 and everything shut down. We were in shock, to say the least, as was everyone in the performing arts sector.
Not to be silenced, we have experimented with performing virtually—which is not everyone’s cup of tea. Nevertheless, we have produced a virtual performance of two pieces now on YouTube, one in which a young soprano whom we had hoped to feature in a live setting, sang with our choristers. Currently, we are preparing a program of jazz and classical work for a concert in the spring of 2022. At the request of a local MPP, we are about to rehearse a virtual Christmas concert for the community. Life goes on, and although it’s vastly different from the one we knew before the pandemic, we are determined to keep singing. I like to think of our group as “the little choir that could,” or, in the words of our fearless director, “small but mighty.”
Note: to access our performances, visit YouTube/Chorus York