Virtual Exhibition: Resonance
Resonance: Guelph Chamber Choir at 40
Guelph’s premier chamber choir has delivered soul-stirring sounds through 40 years of recording and performance history. This exhibition shares the stories of the people whose lives have been touched by their involvement with choral music since 1980 and sets the stage for the next 40 years of the Guelph Chamber Choir.
Guelph Chamber Choir History (Audio)
Guelph Chamber Choir Compilation (Audio)
What is a chamber choir
A chamber choir is a small ensemble (or group) of 8 to 40 singers. There are many types of choirs. Chamber choirs sing in four-part harmony — soprano, alto, tenor, and bass — commonly known as SATB. Chamber choir repertoire (or musical selections) include music composed hundreds of years ago, as well as recent compositions. Sometimes chamber choirs are accompanied by a piano or an orchestra. They also sing a cappella, which means without instrumental accompaniment.
How does a choir work?
Singing together is all about teamwork. Preparing for concerts includes attending weekly rehearsals and learning your part in advance. Singers do a lot of vocal exercises together as a physical warm up at each rehearsal. They also develop breathing techniques and learn to listen very carefully to each other.
Why sing in a choir?
There are many beneﬁts to singing in a choir. Most importantly, singers enjoy a great sense of togetherness and purpose. They ﬁnd immense joy in sharing beautiful music with our community. Singing together is fun and rewarding!
A community legacy
In spring 1997, the first concert in the new River Run Centre marked a milestone for the arts in Guelph. Dr. Glenn Peirson was then president of the Guelph Spring Festival. He had called Gerald Neufeld with news the Festival was in financial trouble. “Could the Guelph Chamber Choir help in any way?” he asked. “Yes,” Gerry responded. “We could perform Orff’s Carmina Burana in the new concert hall.” A choral masterpiece that was sure to fill the seats!
The Choir was joined by singers from across the community. They were accompanied by two excellent pianists and a battery of percussionists. The concert was an overwhelming success. The people of Guelph realized the potential of the new concert hall and the Guelph Spring Festival continued until 2006.
Taking a bow on national and international stages
In 1982, Guelph Chamber Choir was awarded First Prize in the CBC National Radio Competition of Amateur Choirs. Their success propelled them onto the national stage. In 1992, they performed Canadian composer Imant Raminsh’s Magnificat and Swiss composer Frank Martin’s Mass for Double Choir at the International Choral Festival in Toronto. The Choir has also toured internationally, to England and Scotland (1985), Ireland (2001), Austria and the Czech Republic (2006), Holland, Germany, Sweden and Denmark (2009), and England and Wales (2012). In 2017, Guelph Chamber Choir represented Canada in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association’s 150th anniversary concert in London, England.
Performing major works
The Guelph Chamber Choir is one of the ﬁrst amateur choirs in Canada to engage period orchestras. They have performed major historical works from the Baroque to Modern periods, spanning 1600 to 1900. Examples include compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750), George Frideric Handel (1685–1759), Franz Joseph Haydn (1732–1809), and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791). The Choir has performed Handel’s Messiah (1741) over 30 times.
Freelance musicians often accompany the Choir’s choral and orchestral performances. These accompanists come from across Ontario. Together, they form the Musica Viva Orchestra. Violinist Joe Lanza also serves as concert master. He selects musicians who are well versed in historically informed performance. They have a deep understanding of the periods in which each work was composed.
Many of Canada’s ﬁnest international opera and concert singers have appeared as soloists with the Choir. They include tenors Neil Banerjee, Ben Hoeppner, James McLean, Michael Schade, and John Tessier; baritones Alex Dobson and Kevin MacMillan; and mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabó.
The Choir has also performed with well-known Canadian singers in mid-career. For example, sopranos Meredith Hall, Charlene Pauls, and Jennie Such; mezzo-soprano Jennifer Enns; counter tenors Daniel Cabena and Daniel Taylor; tenor Glyn Evans; and bass-baritones Daniel Lichti and Gary Relyea. Carolynne Davy, Sheila Dietrich, and Christopher Fischer have served as both section leaders and soloists.
In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic is having a devastating impact around the world. In Canada, performance venues are closed and live performances cancelled. Choirs are listed as potential “super spreaders” of the virus, which is transmitted through the breath. Yet the quarantine has brought into focus the importance of music. Choral music, in particular, is a shared singing experience that brings people together. During the SARS crisis of 2003, the Guelph Chamber Choir included three medical doctors. At one rehearsal, the conductor asked them how they could aﬀord to be in attendance that evening. They replied, “How can we aﬀord not to be here?” For them, the signiﬁcance of the choral experience extended beyond its aesthetic value. For many, it is also a healing art.
How do we measure the impact of choral music on a community? In the many hours that the conductor devotes to studying the score. In every musical phrase and voice part that together form the lyrics and music. In the countless hours the choir spends in rehearsal. Perhaps impact can only be measured in the moments when the singers, instrumentalists, and audience are all moved by the power of music.
“I have experienced the balm of choral music. The caring, loving embrace of singing together while weathering some of life’s darkest moments.” – retired Choir conductor Gerald Neufeld.
The Guelph Chamber Choir has invited choirs and other musical organizations in Guelph to join them for its regular Songfests. The Choir has performed with the Guelph Concert Band, Guelph Symphony Orchestra, Guelph Youth Singers, Rainbow Chorus, and The Village Singers, and several church choirs. These community groups joined the Choir on the main stage of the River Run Centre. Over 200 singers have performed together with organ, brass ensemble, concert band, or orchestra. Such memorable performances bring unity and harmony to the Guelph community
Collaborative concerts with organizations outside of Guelph invited the Choir to expand its repertoire. They have performed with the Canadian Chamber Choir, DaCapo Chamber Choir, Elmer Iseler Singers, Elora Festival Singers, Exultate Chamber Singers, Grand Philharmonic Chamber Choir, Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, and Orpheus Choir of Toronto. The Choir also collaborated with Dancetheatre David Earle to perform major choral works choreographed for dancers. These works included Mozart’s Requiem, Honegger’s King David and Bach’s motet Jesu meine Freude. To celebrate the Choir’s 30th anniversary and the Guelph Youth Singers’ 20th anniversary, David Earle was commissioned to choreograph John Rutter’s Mass of the Children. It was a remarkable occasion that brought together the Guelph Chamber Choir and the Guelph Youth Singers with dancers, orchestra, and soloists.
Sacred Dance music of inner and outer beauty
Rehearsal photographs – David Earle, Choreographer; Gerald Neufeld, Conductor; Guelph Chamber Choir with Dancetheatre David Earle; Featuring 40 choir members, 31 dancers and 20 musicians; Musica Viva Orchestra on period instruments; April 11, 2015 River Run Centre, Guelph. Photographed by Bob Housser.
Sacred Dance music of inner and outer beauty
Performance photographs – David Earle, Choreographer; Gerald Neufeld, Conductor; Guelph Chamber Choir with Dancetheatre David Earle; Featuring 40 choir members, 31 dancers and 20 musicians; Musica Viva Orchestra on period instruments; April 11, 2015 River Run Centre, Guelph. Photographed by Bob Housser.
Tools of the trade
Pitch Pipe – Used to give singers their starting pitch (note) when singing a cappella (without instrumental accompaniment). On loan from Carolyn Davidson.
Tuning Fork – An acoustic resonator that emits a constant pitch when struck, most commonly A = 440 Hz. Used to give singers their starting note when singing a cappella. On loan from Alison Vicary.
Conductor’s Baton – A baton is a stick used by conductors primarily to enlarge and enhance the manual and bodily movements associated with directing an ensemble of musicians. On loan from Dave Davidson.
Examples of conductor’s baton gestures
The Guelph Chamber Choir has performed Handel’s Messiah over thirty times. It is performed every holiday season, on the main stage of the River Run Centre.
Since 2012, the Messiah Singalong has been a fundraiser for the Children First Fund of Family and Children’s Services of Guelph and Wellington County.
The Guelph Chamber Choir deeply appreciates John Wood (1940–2018), his wife Barbara, and the Wood family, for their sponsorship of the Choir’s annual performances of the Messiah. It is one of the most anticipated events of the year, for both singers and audiences. John Wood loved “good music” and sang in the Dublin Street United Church choir. He ﬁrst sponsored a Christmas morning radio broadcast of the Messiah, sung by the Guelph Chamber Choir. Over time, he became the exclusive sponsor of the live performance. Annually, he purchased tickets for his friends and for his employees of the W. C. Wood Company. John was very proud of the sponsorship. When John died on December 25, 2018, the Guelph Chamber Choir oﬀered to sing at his funeral. Barbara and their two children were thrilled. They suggested the “Hallelujah” chorus from the Messiah, which surprised the minister. As a composition that expresses great joy, it is not normally sung at a funeral. Barbara recalls that the performance was “amazing” and that “the walls of the church seemed to move with the music!” Thank you, John, for sharing the joy of song with so many, for so long.
Meet the conductors
Artistic Director, Guelph Chamber Choir, 1980–1983, 1985–2018
Doctor of Musical Arts, Professor Emeritus, University of Western Ontario
The Guelph Chamber Choir has been the fulﬁllment of my hopes and aspirations for a skilled community choir. The music we have made together has been a treasured gift to me as a conductor. My understanding of the musical complexities in a choral score grew with the Choir. Together, we studied music from early Renaissance motets to commissioned works by Canadian composers. We mastered some of the greatest music in the choral repertoire, from Bach’s Mass in B minor (1749) to Orﬀ ’s Carmina Burana (1935/36) and Fanshawe’s African Sanctus (1972).
I recall, as a child, experiencing my ﬁrst choral concert in a small town in Alberta, wishing that someday I too could conduct a choir. Later, after hearing Handel’s Messiah for the ﬁrst time, I longed to be able to conduct the “Hallelujah Chorus” just once in my life. After more than 30 full performances of Messiah, that wish has been more than fulﬁlled, thanks to the many wonderful people of the Choir.
I am grateful to have had the support of competent, caring, committed board members. Much gratitude goes to those who served as presidents and administrators of the choir. They bore the brunt of the workload! I am most grateful to Patricia Eton, whom I ﬁrst met at a Cabaret Committee meeting in 1996. That meeting began a close friendship that blossomed into marriage. Pat served as administrator of the Choir for 15 years. Her work — unseen by audience members and choir members alike —was crucial for the success of Guelph Chamber Choir. May the next 40 years be as rewarding as the ﬁrst 40 years. May the Choir reach for new heights of accomplishment.
Artistic Director, Guelph Chamber Choir, since 2019
Doctor of Vocal Performance, University of Toronto
My connection with the Guelph Chamber Choir began when I was invited as the guest soprano for two performances of Handel’s Messiah. The ﬁrst was several years ago and the second in 2016. I was impressed by the high level of choral artistry, particularly in regard to the historically informed performance that has become a trademark of the Guelph Chamber Choir’s Messiah. In addition to their notably nuanced approach, the Choir also made an impression when they pulled out an array of snacks at the break. This group knew how to sing and how to eat!
These experiences fueled my excitement as I entered my role as Artistic Director in 2019. I have deep admiration for Dr. Gerald Neufeld and I am thrilled to follow in his footsteps. My ﬁrst year as Artistic Director was ﬁlled with highlights. We performed a fall concert with the high school choir at Guelph Collegiate Vocational Institute. Our snowy celebration of Christmas music was performed with brass accompaniment. And I conducted Messiah in December. Unfortunately, pandemic restrictions shortened our ﬁrst season together. As we move forward, we are ﬁnding new ways of creating choral excellence in our community. The Guelph Chamber Choir will continue to evolve to reﬂect our ever-changing world, and we look forward to taking this musical journey together with you.
The Guelph Chamber Choir reﬂects with gratitude on the immeasurable support from our community. We gratefully acknowledge the longstanding commitment of many donors, volunteers, and sponsors, and the contributions of choristers, guest musicians, and artists. We also thank our audience and champions of choral music in Guelph.
Board of Directors 2020–21
Sya Van Geest
Charlene Pauls, Artistic Director (ex oﬃcio)
Sandra Pitts, Choir Administrator (ex oﬃcio)
With generous assistance from:
Dave Horner, River Run Centre
Gareth Lind, Lind Design
Earl McCluskie, Chestnut Hall Music