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WATERSHED PRESENTS: The 50th Anniversary Celebration of the Oriana Singers

author: Cecilia Nasmith

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IT STARTED 50 YEARS AGO, WHEN A HANDFUL OF FRIENDS, who were to call themselves the Oriana Singers, gathered around the kitchen table at Helen Massie’s farmhouse. The small, dedicated group shared a love of madrigals – a form of vocal chamber music – and a love of community.

Over the past half century, the vision shared at this intimate gathering has gained momentum, as well as members – a testament to the chorus’s continued determination to share the joy they find in music.

Founding member Pat McGregor was at that first kitchen table meeting in Hamilton Township and she still treasures fond memories of the group’s very first concert, held at St. George’s Anglican Church in Grafton. “…It was a magical evening,” she recalled.

Also around the table was the group’s first Musical Director Beryl Maguire, whose superb musical gifts helped her mould a group of friends into a reputable chorus that flourished under her leadership.

In fact, it was Maguire’s leadership that inspired Mary Talbot. The first time Talbot heard the Oriana Singers perform, it left her feeling so enrapt that the hair on the back of her neck stood up. She knew she had to become part of this musical assembly.

The revered Beryl Maguire stayed at the helm through 1995. By that time, the Oriana Singers had won an impressive list of awards, including the honour of being named Canada’s Best Chamber Choir at the National Competitive Festival of Music in 1980.

For the next 25 years, the choir expanded with the guidance of its talented musical directors – Robert Grandy, Randy Mills, Marie Anderson and Markus Howard – each one bringing their personal creative gifts to the choral group.

Today, the current director, Lynn Janes, is sparking a new energy within the choir – an energy that is balanced with understanding and insight. She strives to maintain her predecessors’ track record of excellence, and yet at the same time she is mindful of keeping the element of wonder in the proceedings.

“I have been a professional conductor and singer, and sometimes I have to make sure I remind myself – this is a community choir full of people who have day jobs and families, and they come because of the love of singing,” she said. “I approach my rehearsals with a sense of joy. We work hard, but I think it’s important for the choir to feel like they are having a good time.”

The members do have a sense of accomplishment, as they rehearse and strive and perfect the repertoire for each concert, then give their all in performing it. Then they tuck it away and start again for their next concert.

Janes also seeks to embrace the other choirs, orchestras and organizations that make up the thriving arts culture in Northumberland County.

“I am honoured to be able to work with the Orianas.” Janes said. “I think that their history and their dedication to excellence and their passion for providing good choral music to the area for so long is really quite remarkable.”

Remarkable indeed. Fifty years of continuous dedication and a determination to express their joy through song makes the Oriana Singers very special. And they plan to celebrate their anniversary with voices that sing to the heavens.

The final concert of this anniversary year will be somewhat of a homecoming event, with past members and directors invited back, honouring a blend of music that has matured gracefully with age. One long standing member anticipates that “Beryl will be thrilled to pieces…I’m sure she will be watching.”

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