Archive » Arts and Entertainment

Elmer Iseler Singers conductor appointed to Order of Canada

July 6, 2023   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

Lydia Adams, conductor and artistic director of the Elmer Iseler Singers (EIS), said, “I was down actually in Glace Bay for the first time since Covid when I heard the news. That’s where I was born and the home where I was brought up. So many people supported me; it was such a wonderful community of friends, of young musicians growing up.”

Yet, it was not her own self on whom Ms. Adams focused, but her mother, Florence Adams. Florence Adams was instrumental to Ms. Adams as a musician, setting up performing opportunities that included many of the children in Glace Bay. 

Ms. Adams painted the picture for us, “In our houses, people – artists, musicians – would just drop in and you put the kettle on; there was lots of laughter, lots of people.”

She was there this May to attend a special concert honouring Stuart Calvert, a highly regarded conductor and arranger and a native of the town. He was given the Key of the City.

Two days after the concert, Lydia Adams told us, “I was down at the harbour, when the GG’s office called my phone, telling me I had been appointed to the Order of Canada. I went up right away to the graveyard and told my parents and grandparents. The people there are so wonderful; people are really happy for me.”

Sharing it, she commented, “It’s an honour for all those who helped me.”

Her mother gave youngsters so many opportunities to perform, creating choirs for young Lydia to sing in. Florence Adams took them on tours on the train.

When she asked the town’s permission to take her youthful choir to Expo 67 [World Fair], they said, “Sure – as long as you take all the town’s children to Expo.”

“So she did that, plus the chaperons. She took hundreds of children up to Expo,” said Ms. Adams. “She saw no end to possibilities in a small fishing town; fought against bias, acquired diversity.”

She put families of different backgrounds from around the world together so that no one ever thought anything about it because they were just together, teaching them to sing Bach in German, sing in different languages, Italian and French. She fought for the symphony to come in and staged community concerts.

“My mother believed in the power of music,” she told us. “She thought it was their right, and they deserved to have it in their lives. She had infinite time to teach children.

“She was a genius.”

When Florence Adams moved to Toronto, she had a full teaching school, and to the children who thought music was too hard, she told them, “This is going to be so much fun,” where they thought it couldn’t be done.

She had a tremendous impact on thousands, her daughter told us.

It was meeting Elmer and Jesse Iseler in 1980 at the Nova Scotia Choral Federation camp that eventually brought Ms. Adams to Caledon East. He asked her to come to Toronto, which she did a year later, in 1981, after finishing her studies in the UK. 

Subsequently, she was invited by Elmer Iseler to play for his choir in 1981. By the mid-1990s, Mr. Iseler, the most decorated musician in Canada, was ill. The choir’s Board of Directors asked Ms. Adams to step in as Interim Conductor, and when Mr. Iseler died in 1997, she was asked again: to take over the job of Artistic Director and Conductor.

She was enthusiastic to say what an honour it was to work with Elmer Iseler, a genius in creating sound. He inspired legions of singers, composers and conductors throughout Canada and internationally to create extraordinary sounds and to reach to become the best they could be. An amazing conductor who, with his wife and EIS General Manager, Jesse Iseler, built the choirs into some of the best in the world.

Over the years, EIS has toured across Canada and certainly up north to Yukon and Northern Ontario.

“At one point,” she told the Citizen, “we were singing the very first opera in Cree. We took it up to First Nations communities. It was a legend by Tomson Highway, written for children. We went to Moose Factory for one of those performances. 

“I try to bring something special; education is important.”

In the smaller communities, the EIS puts music together to sing with local choirs, and the local conductor will conduct the program.

Coming up, they have summer concerts: on July 13, “In Ottawa, we’re with John Rutter, with whom I travelled to Italy, to Venice. Our main concert was in St. Marks. The city leaders and future Pope [John Paul I] attended. We were allowed to go up into the galleries, where we could touch the mosaics on the ceiling. The singing was passed among the voices of different choirs stationed around the gallery.

“Every time we meet, it is wonderful.”

This time, EIS is performing Mr. Rutter’s Requiem and Gabriel Faure’s Requiem.

At Westben in Campbellford, “Canadian tenor Ben Heppner is joining forces with Baritone Gino Quilico and EIS celebrating the choir’s 44th Anniversary Season 2022/23.” [press release] July 14 at 2:00 pm.

July 22 sees them at Parry Sound’s Festival of the Sound for 20 Years At the Stockey Centre.

“The Order of Canada is a tremendous honour that means a great deal to the communities I’ve been part of,” she affirmed, “who have made a huge effort to bring music to the world.

“I’m so happy to be working in creating music with these voices of the EIS. This is a boost to continue, very affirming for our work. Jesse Iseler has worked tirelessly. It truly takes a village. The Toronto and Ontario Arts Councils and the Canadian Council of the Arts have been tremendously supportive.

She said tenderly, “The choir is singing so well and they are even better people.”

Readers Comments (0)

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.