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Achill Choral Society is back with guest director Jenny Crober

August 18, 2022   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

The Achill Choral Society (ACS) is celebrating 40 years of bringing choral music to Dufferin and environs. It was 1982 when a local landowner made up his mind to create such a choir because he believed that every community is better with music. He engaged a music director and the choir came together in numbers and musical excellence. They have sung concerts over the decades in venues around this region and the greater Toronto area, and have travelled overseas to the Netherlands, France and the United Kingdom. They have sung in major concert halls in the United States.

They have cared for each other and been like a loving family.

Then, like all of us, they were shut out of performing during the worst impact of Covid.

President of the ACS, Cathy Whitcombe told the Citizen, however, “We never stopped rehearsing. Even through the first summer [2020], Shawn [Grenke, artistic director/conductor of the Achill Choral Society] kept us singing if just to keep us socially connected and make sure we were okay. Some of us live on our own.”

She added, “Then, we got back to rehearsals with Nancy [accompanist Dettbarn Sicsic] and Shawn. We heard them but we were muted because it was impossible to listen, as we were each on different timing with Zoom. Our last performance was at the Avalon, where we sang outside on the courtyard. It was small but it was socially helpful.”

Currently, Shawn Grenke is on sabbatical at the University of Alberta for his final year of his doctorate on choral conducting. He is looking forward to returning to work with Achill.

In his absence, Jenny Crober has come on board as Guest Director. It is she who will lead the choir for their Winter Concert at the Westminster United Church in Orangeville on December 10.

The Citizen had a conversation with Ms. Crober earlier this week to talk about her life with music and to anticipate her time with ACS.

Ms. Crober is the Artistic Director of the Toronto based VOCA Chorus.

“I met Shawn in the choral world, playing the organ in a spring concert. He contacted me in 2017 for this huge 150 Concert for Canada the Achill were doing. I was pulled pretty much at the last minute, as he wasn’t able to do the job. I jumped in and it turned out to be a very lovely piece. (O Canada by Dave Pierce)”

When Shawn Grenke called Ms. Crober to come back to do Wednesday nights with Achill, in preparation for their December concert, she was pleased to return to the “welcoming to coming back’ reception she received from the choir. 

Said she, “My husband and I have lovely memories of visiting Orangeville. We are going to meet Nancy [Dettbarn] Sicsic to get together with her this week and see the renovations that were done to the church,” adding that she is thrilled to be working again with this community choir. 

She talked a bit about her history otherwise with Achill, telling us, “My chorus was singing Carmina Burana in Toronto and 40 of the Achill came to see the concert. We were really impressed by that kind of support. That’s one of the reasons I came to prepare for the concert on December 10. It’s on at 3:00 p.m.”

Born in Sarnia, Ms. Crober got her music degree at Western University and her teaching degree. She became a freelance piano accompanist – mostly singers but also violin – and others instrumental performers. While at Western, she sang with a choir, as a natural extension from her childhood and into high school.

“Singing is a big part of my life,” she commented. “I started playing for a lot of choirs and for Tafel Music auditions.”

She sang with the Orpheus choir and conducted chamber music at North 44.

Finally, Jenny Crober found a choral home. She was playing for the East York Choir and in 2004, was asked to be artistic director.

“We then changed the name to VOCA, from the Italian ‘vocare’, meaning ‘to call’,” she said.

She is still the artistic director with VOCA.

Lydia Adams is a colleague in the choral world, with whom Ms. Crober worked when Ms. Adams played for the Orpheus Choir in the early ’90’s.

“She asked if I would sub- accompany for her for the Elmer Isler Singers.”

Some of the highlights of Ms. Crober’s musical life are co-conducting the Celtic Mass for the sea by Scott Macmillan at Carnegie Hall; working with Ola Gjeilo, “who came to work with us from New York.

“For that, there were some singers from VOCA and Achill and we played again in Carnegie Hall.”

She had the chance to participate in a production with our own Mark DuBois, telling us, “It was great fun working with Mark and a very talented cast for Toronto Operetta Theatre’s Orpheus in the Underworld. I was the rehearsal pianist (‘répetiteur) and played one of the giant synthesizers in the pit for the shows at the Jane Mallett Theatre… many years ago!”

Diversity is a must: she loves African drumming, jazz, lots of traditional classical music but she was there to say, “I’m not afraid to step up…”

About the December concert, she told us, “There will be quite a variety of music; Shirley Jemmett will be there too with her bell ringing at Westminster. It will be a wonderful time.”

By coincidence, VOCA rehearses at Eastminister United Church in Toronto.

From Cathy Whitcombe, the Citizen also learned that the choir is maintaining full Covid protocol with only two months of in-person rehearsals.

“We purchased singers masks for the singers last spring. We are doing rehearsals at Westminster United Church, in the sanctuary, where there is room to space with our collaborative accompanist Nancy Dettbarn Sicsic, music director at Westminster,” she said.

Achill is back to welcoming experienced choral singers to join them, hoping to grow the choir.
“We’ve had enormous response from experienced singers,” Ms. Whitcombe assured us, “but we are happy to have more because we have more space and we love to have lots of singers to make a rich tone.”

For more information, go to which will put you in touch with Achill’s secretary with answers to your questions and more information.

As… “a few of our local choir members did not continue after the pandemic, we are happy to open our arms to other singers whose choirs did not continue,” said Cathy Whitcombe.

She told us that the December 10 at 3pm Winter Concert is a secular and holiday selection of music, inclusive to all faiths.

Tickets are available online or can be reserved at

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