Veteran choir the Elmer Iseler Singers album nominated for 2017 Juno award

March 23, 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

The 20-person Elmer Iseler Singers (EIS) professional choir has been nominated for a Juno Award this year.

Together with Tapestry Opera and the Gryphon Trio, conducted by Wayne Strongman, they performed The Black Star Requiem, by Canadian Composer Andrew Staniland. They are among five contenders for the “Classical Album of the Year: Vocal or Choral Performance.”

“We are thrilled with the nomination,” said Lydia Adams, Artistic Director and Conductor of the EIS. “It’s the first time for their own nomination.”

In the course of their many concerts over the last 38 years, the Elmer Iseler Singers have never backed off dealing with tough issues. Indeed, this Saturday, at St. Anne’s Anglican Church in Toronto, they will be singing an all-Armenian concert of sacred and secular music, with soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian. This concert was noted this week as a Critic’s Pick in the Toronto magazine, Musical Toronto.

The concept for the upcoming concert centred on the issue of refugees from Syria, amongst which crowd was a group of Armenians.

Isabel Bayrakdarian came to Canada from Armenia when she was young. She graduated from the University of Toronto with a degree in biomedical but her fabulous soprano voice has carried her from one success to the next. She has won four consecutive Junos for Best Classical Album.

During a telephone interview with  Lydia Adams, a Caledon resident,  she told us, “We wanted to bring attention to the potential for good of these refugees. Here is a wonderful singer who came here from Armenia early in her life and look at the richness she has brought to Canada.”

For the concert on Saturday in Armenian, the trick is to get it right. Said Ms. Adams, “We spent a long time on four bars of music at rehearsal last night. The music is easy but the text is difficult – we found it tricky. There is one vowel which we can’t say as we normally do – we are trying to get the words – so they sound correct.”

There will be lots of Armenians at this concert. Ms. Adams commented, “We want it to sound Armenian.”

This is one of the regular five concerts the EIS offers its subscribers but, in addition, they do much more. Last year, they went to the East Coast in July; this year it is the west for their touring concerts. They also sing in venues all over Ontario.

There is much more to the EIS tours than just singing on a stage, for everywhere they go to sing, they also share the joy of music with the communities with workshops for community choirs and schools.

“We are making music together with community music,” commented Ms. Adams. “There is  real elevation of joining all those people into one focus.”

Ms. Adams was invited by Elmer Iseler to play for his choir in 1981. By the mid 1990’s, 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.

“The 20th anniversary of his passing is coming and we are going to acknowledge it, to truly celebrate his contribution to Canadian music. Certainly, all the mid to older conductors are influenced by Elmer in a positive way and many younger ones know of him and respect him , even at a distance.” Philosophically, she remarked, “Whatever you do, you’re making ripples in the water and you hope those ripples are positive.”

Her work with the EIS, the Amadeus Choir, as well as her other obligations, keep Ms. Adams busy but she is proud of the support she gets from others.

“It’s wonderful to have Jesse [Iseler, Elmer’s widow] as Manager of the choir,” Ms. Adams commented.

Mrs Iseler still lives in Caledon East, as she and her husband did for many years. Mr. Iseler is buried in the cemetery in Caledon East.

Although the EIS has travelled extensively across North America, they have not toured abroad. Funding is the main barrier, for this is a professional choir whose members must be paid per diem, their fares and needs supplied. In fact, the Board of Directors, who are dedicated to making a European tour happen, have established a fund to support the endeavour.

April will see the EIS travelling out west for a six-town tour of concerts and workshops with, once again, community choirs and schools through their Outreach program. As was the East Coast tour, the tour to Western Canada is funded in part by the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council.

Part of the mantra of the artistic direction of the EIS is to engage and encourage Canadian talent in composing and singing in a “workshop situation.”

The EIS commission and perform many new works by Canadian composers.

In spite of a busy schedule with the concerts and tours, the members of the EIS have outside lives which they sometimes need balancing to accommodate the demands of the choir.  One lady is a aerospace engineer, specializing in micro satellites and has been involved in the mechanics behind more than one space adventure.

Another is a physician. Others have lives full-time in music as teachers, musical leaders – and one in a rock  band.

“We are a professional company,” Ms. Adams said. “We work closely together to make sure they do things outside the choir for the sake of the richness they provide.”

Later in the day, there was a call with Jesse Iseler. She wanted to talk about the proposal for an Arts Centre for Caledon. There is currently a survey on the town’s website, inviting people to comment on the benefits of such a structure.

“There is a community centre, hockey facilities and other sports centres, everything – with the arts coming last, and they are still not sure,” she said, noting the survey. “Certainly, there should be an arts centre – a performing arts centre with an art gallery and teaching space for the arts. It would be a remarkable addition to the town.’

There was a brief discussion about the enthusiastic community of arts across the Headwaters area, with so much to offer not only the residents but to attract visitors to the region.

Said Mrs. Iseler, “We have sung in so many churches in the area. Caledon needs its own performing arts centre.”

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