Famed choral group Elmer Iseler Singers wows Mindemoya crowd

Three conductors, Chris Theijsmeijer of the Island Singers, Lydia Adams of the Elmer Isleler Singers and Jane Best of the Manitoulin Community Choir acknowledge the applause following the final performance of the JUNO Award winning choral group the Elmer Iseler Singers at the Mindemoya Missionary Church. Members of the three choirs are all smiles as they stand behind their conductors. photo by Michael Erskine

MINDEMOYA—The JUNO award-winning choral group the Elmer Iseler Singers brought a world class choral performance to the sanctuary of the Mindemoya Missionary Church on the evening of Sunday, March 24 to the delight of all of those lucky enough to have been in attendance.

“It turned out to be an absolutely wonderful evening,” said organizer Jane Best, who was cited as the driving force in enabling the performance to take place. “I just called them up and asked if there was any way they could add Manitoulin as one of the stops on their Northern Ontario tour.”

There was plenty more to the story of organizing such an event than Ms. Best lets on, but she said that thanks must go out to recognize the efforts of many people who contributed to the success of the evening. “You can put a day like this together,” she said, “but if one person doesn’t do what they say it can go very wrong. Everybody did what they were supposed to do and it turned out to be very easy.”

Under the direction of conductor Lydia Adams, with Shawn Grenke on piano, the Elmer Iseler Singers began their performance with Gustav Holst’s ‘Psalm 148,’ the joyous strains of the familiar piece rising to the rafters and setting the tone for the evening.

The choral group’s repertoire held close to a Northern and especially Canadian theme throughout the evening, with many pieces featuring a Canadian composer, arranger or poet.

In their third piece, the Elmer Iseler Singers spread out along the walls of the room to encompass the audience in the haunting strains of ‘Nur: Reflections on Light,’ a particularly poignant choice given recent world events.

Nur was originally commissioned by the Aga Khan Museum for the opening of the Ismaili Centre in Toronto and is “a collection of miniatures and choral soundscapes exploring the ineffable nature of light. The collection contains newly composed music and reworked material written as a site specific composition for the opening. The music interweaves melodies from Ismaili Muslim devotional literature, Qur’anic recitation and classical Indian ragas into textures inspired by early and contemporary choral music.”

From Three Songs of the Spirit, with its southern spirituals ‘Every Time I Feel the Spirit,’ ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘Didn’t My Lord Deliver,’ through ‘Til the Boys Come Home’ with ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’, ‘Keep the Home Fires Burning’ and Harry Lauder’s World War I ode (Keep on until) ‘The End of the Road’ and on into songs reflecting The Heartbeat of the Country, Eleanor Daley’s ‘Grandmother Moon’ and the Acadian-inspired American standard ‘Shenandoah,’ the choir pulled deep on emotions that resonated deeply with their audience.

“There were four boys in our neighbourhood who went off to war, one of them was my best friend,” said Kagawong’s Ed Burt. “My mother sang ‘Keep the Home Fires Burning’ every day of the war. I remember the day my mother came and told me that he would not be coming home.”

The audience was invited to join the choir in singing the chorus for both ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’ and ‘Keep the Home Fires Burning,’ which they did with enthusiasm.

‘The End of the Road’ was written by turn of the century singing sensation Harry Lauder, whose own son had been killed in the First World War. The music of Mr. Lauder would have been as familiar to Manitoulin homes at the beginning of the 20th Century as any modern pop musician is today.

Paul Halley’s ‘Song for Canada’ and Rita McNeil’s ‘She’s Called Nova Scotia’ finished off the presentation featuring solely the Elmer Iseler choir. As the evening of music drew close to a close, two Island choirs took to the stage to join the Elmer Iseler Singers for the last three songs. The Manitoulin Community Choir, Jane Best conductor and the Island Singers, Chris Theijsmeijer conductor has spent the afternoon with the Elmer Iseler Singers preparing for the event.

“I was very happy with the choir,” said Ms. Best. “They all showed up knowing the songs and ready for their part.”

Ms. Best said that the Island choirs had an amazing opportunity throughout the afternoon to pick up several pointers that helped to improve their performances and that the experience would stay with them for a lifetime.

The audience once again joined the choirs on the refrain of Leon Dubinsky’s ‘We Rise Again,’ as a fitting ending to what had proved to be a very Canadian performance.

Elmer Iseler Singers won the 2019 Juno Award Classical Album of the Year for ‘David Braid: Corona Divinae Misericordiae’ featuring Patricia O’Callaghan with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.