Festival singers celebrate 25 years of music
|By Mark Arike - Staff Writer | Nov. 10, 2016
All it took was an idea and a conversation to spark the formation of a new choir.
But little did its founders know it would still be going strong 25 years later.
“That’s a long time,” says Melissa Stephens, conductor of the Highlands Festival Singers.
“We never thought the choir would last for very long.”
For close to 30 years, Stephens has directed two other local choirs—one at the Haliburton United Church and the other at the Zion United Church in Carnarvon. They always put on an Easter performance on Good Friday.
After one of those performances 25 years ago, local residents Bill Gliddon, Wayne Cooper and Stephens’s husband Craig discussed the concept of bringing together all of the local choirs to perform Handel’s Messiah, an oratorio composed in 1741 by George Frideric Handel.
Stephens took a nap after delivering two exhausting morning services and awoke to several phone messages.
“By the time it was all done, Bill was playing, I was conducting and Wayne was going to be the manager,” she recalls.
People had to apply to be part of the choir and audition to be a soloist. The response was positive, with 75 people joining.
They took the stage for the first time in December of 1991 with a performance of Handel’s holiday classic.
“We thought when we put this together that it would be for the one time and that would be it,” she says.
But they decided to continue because it sounded so good when they came together.
The group was originally called Haliburton Messiah Choir, but underwent a name change six years ago to reflect the more diverse nature of the arrangements they now perform.
Ever since forming, the choir has put on concerts in the spring and fall. They continue to perform Handel’s Messiah once every five years.
The choir currently consists of 55 members, including a few men. About 10 of the founding members remain.
Carnarvon resident Joan Chapple is one of these people.
“You certainly develop your ability to read music and tackle more difficult music,” said Chapple, who has been singing at the Zion United Church since the age of 11. She is now 81.
Not only has it been rewarding musically, but also socially.
“I’ve made friendships that are lifelong,” she said.
Jessie Pflug was also a member of Zion’s choir before joining the festival singers 25 years ago. She was 48 at the time.
Just like Chapple, she spoke highly of Stephens and her commitment to the choir.
“I just loved what she brought out in the singers,” says Pflug. “She certainly brought us to great heights. There’s a lot more polish on the group now than there was then.”
And Stephens has big plans to mark the choir’s anniversary. In the spring, she will bring together 150 vocalists for three performances, including a stop at Archie Stouffer Elementary School in Minden on May 9. Titled “A Canadian Choral Celebration—150 Years, 150 Voices,” it will fall in line with Canada’s sesquicentennial anniversary.
She is putting together three of her choirs in Haliburton, Bancroft and Lindsay, as well as putting out a call to former members.
“We’re doing a Canadian concert in each of those venues,” she says. “It’s going to be huge.”
MARK ARIKE is a reporter for The Highlander.