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Achill Choral Society bringing ‘A Winter Day’ show to Westminster

December 1, 2022   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

“It is quite a lovely concert,” Jenny Crober, guess conductor of the Achill Choral Society (ACS) enthused. “Everyone will wear masks on all the time.” And, sadly, “There won’t be any goodies later, due to our caution over Covid [plus variants and flu].”

Their concert titled A Winter Day will be performed at Westminster United Church, 247 Broadway, on Saturday, December 10. It is a matinee, starting at 3:00 p.m.

For the moment, the choir was in rehearsal at Westminster United Church with Ms. Crober and the church’s Music Director, organist and the accompanist for the ACS, Nancy Dettbarn.

Ms. Crober told us, “These rehearsals held our first sections with the tenors and basses down stairs with me and the sopranos and altos upstairs with Nancy Dettbarn and next rehearsal will be the opposite.” 

The technique of rehearsing in sections is firstly, in Ms. Crober’s opinion, “kind of fun” for singers to work with each of the conductor and the organist separately, who do have “slightly different approaches to the music.” They both come primarily from choral backgrounds but as individuals, they will each have opinions that vary somewhat.

Still, “it’s a really efficient of cleaning up and focussing on things,” said Ms. Crober.

Time marches and her observation was that the December 10 concert date is coming up quickly.

The main piece , the featured work, in four movements is A Winter Day by Canadian composer Sarah Quartel from London, Ontario. Ms. Quartel is known all over the world, in part because she’s been picked up by Oxford press, so Ms. Crober informed us. Publication by Oxford Press bears a good draw of attention to composers.

Through the four movements are poems, two of which were penned by Lucy Maud Montgomery, a “perfect total about the frost, snow and the winter lights.”

Cello soloist, Angela Dong is featured in the second movement. Angela Dong is a 14 year old student who has worked with Shawn Grenke before.

“Gorgeous movements, so smooth then melodic; then in third movement that cello is played like a fiddle as the music takes into morning.”

The piano and choir act as accompaniment for cello. Then – well, come and hear it all.

The rest of the concert is given over to musical surprises that are wild, windy, jazzy and fun.

Another piece to present, completely by Sarah Quartel is different: Blow, Blow -Thou Winter Wind is also jazzy and fun with lots of accents from choir with piano.

In a televised and separate interview, Sarah Quartel talks about how important is choral music, for youth and adults; how it bonds the singers as a community that reaches out to the broader community with music. The great impetus for Ms. Quartel as a composer, she said, is that sense of community and the idea of playing with music, with integrity but also with a sense of adventure that is essentially music, bringing voices together in harmony.

Theoretically, a Hebrew chant yet, not a chant – it’s a gallop – so much fun, break neck speed is ‘Hine Ma Tov,’ a Hebrew chant. The translation’s basic import, we were told, is “Behold how good it is for brethren to dwell in [a universal message of peace.]” 

This is klezmer music which will feature a clarinet. Sean Darraugh is the clarinetist.

Shirley Jemmett and the Bells of Westminster ring in with ACS; a musical passing through the Iberian Peninsula – one never knows where ever music will take us but it is for sure worth the price and worth the time to discover.

“It’s different working with Achill because I didn’t know most of these people before I stood up in front of them,” Ms. Crober admitted cheerfully. “They are quite a different group from my Toronto choir VOCA [the Italian/Latin word for “voice”.] But here, Cathy Whitcombe, the choir’s President has been wonderful.”

Coming up in the New Year, Jenny Crober and Shawn Grenke will co-conduct in the spring. They have different backgrounds, Ms. Crober has also done musical theatre and jazz; each of them is very active in the choral world.

“We are both concerned about blend, balance and tone and he and I are mostly on the same wave length,” she remarked.

Adding, “You really have to work on communicating the text to the audience.”

As she sees them, “Achill is a real mix. Some have had choral experience, who have been singing with this choir. It’s very interesting with new people, how it changes up the sound .”

VOCA, as Ms. Crober explained, has six out of 60 singers who are professionals. For their upcoming Toronto concerts, “one thing that we’re doing is we’ve asked a couple of professional singers …to sing with us, [including] Geof Ball, a singer and Angela Dong’s cello teacher.”

When asked to define the value of a choir, she had no hesitation, “It’s such a precious thing. How lucky are we as a society to meet and to sing glorious music, sing together as one group and one voice? To stand up and hear all these voices. It can be a pretty tense time for people but hey! come and sing together and then they share this with other people and the instrument is one you carry with you.”

The protocol that is still with us, “All of us are masked; the audience is going to be masked. It’s the same with other choirs and that’s reality.”

For details and to purchase tickets, go to

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