Praise of the 2009 Peterborough Singers Christmas concert came in from all quarters—audience members, fellow musicians, and even renowned composer Len Ballantine.

The concert, which featured the music of Len Ballantine and the performances of an elite ensemble from the Canadian Staff Band of the Salvation Army, got off to a humorous start. Director Syd Birrell had forgotten his music downstairs. He covered the oversight with such charm, however, that one person in the audience wondered whether he’d left his scores behind “on purpose, to break the ice!” Another wrote, “The evening held a cornucopia of magic, comic panic and a large measure of communal giving and receiving.” Still another comment: the concert inspired “a whole gamut of emotional states—from being amused to being moved.” We can all guess what was so amusing!

But the inspiration, beauty, magic, and heart of the performance were the aspects most praised:

“It was often breathtaking, at times transcending, but most of all beautiful.”

The choir “really found the heart of the music and its message.”

“The skill and sensitivity of the Singers was obvious in the simplest of melodies—beautiful unisons and exquisite dynamics—yet, at the same time, the audience enjoyed the whimsical, fun-loving side of the choir.”

“Everything about the concert was a wonderful experience. The choice of music suited the occasion perfectly.”

The Singers “gave a packed house what they came to experience—the songs of the season, spectacular Christmas carols, a wonderful message, and joy.”

“The concert last night was relaxing, inspiring, joyful; in other words, I and my friends thoroughly enjoyed it.”

“A lot of people had fun! … It was a magical evening.” At the concert, the Peterborough Singers premiered a new work, Night of the Angel Song, which the choir had commissioned from Len Ballantine. (Read an article on this piece.) Many commented on the exceptional quality of this song, and on the choir’s performance of it.

“The commissioned piece was wonderful … A very exciting piece that needed a top-notch choir to pull it off. You did it, and then some.”

“All that amazing music … I don’t know which ones I loved the most. Probably Night of the Angel Song takes the prize!!”

And the composer himself was overjoyed by this first public performance of his new work. Right after the concert, Syd Birrell received a very gracious letter from Len Ballantine, a letter that thanked the choir and Syd “for a brilliant evening”:


What a fabulous night!! A really enjoyable and beautiful event!

Thank you so much for your efforts on Night of the Angel Song! I spoke to ever so many people from the audience who where overwhelming in their praise! I am grateful that you took this piece to heart. It really shone, and really conveyed the terror and magnificence of “just another night” on the Bethlehem hillside. You done good!

And … for me, the moment of breaking came with Christmas Presence … by the last verse I was a wreck! So sensitive. So beautiful. So moving and poignant. I’ve never heard it sung like that! And I dare say the King’s Singers would have had to work very hard indeed to match what we heard tonight for heart and magic.

Thank you for a brilliant evening, and laurels to my friend Syd for wearing the mantle of responsibility so winsomely. He is a precious gift to your choir and to your city. It is an honour to work with him and help to bring his dreams and aspirations to life. Bravo Syd!

Let’s do this again some time!

LB Len Ballantine Major Corps Officer Ontario Central – East Division