Unplanned program changes added to the unabashed fun at this year’s Un-Concert. Special guests the Peterborough Pop Ensemble began the program (instead of ending the first half) with a moving tribute to Barb Monahan, the group’s founding director who passed away on October 10. Barb was also a Peterborough Singer and a dear friend of many in the choir.
Then came another twist. The Singers’ Artistic Director Syd Birrell went off script too. Instead of playing “Now Thank We All Our God,” he responded to a request from Pop Ensemble member Susan Porter Dunkley to play the very challenging Toccata from Charles-Marie Widor’s Fifth Organ Symphony—without the benefits of music or prior warning. Pretty amazing!
A group of Peterborough Singers who have also sung at one time or another in the choir at All Saints’ Church, calling themselves “A Few Saints,” had the unenviable task of following Syd’s organ piece and the Pop Ensemble. They sang Jack Schrader’s choral arrangement of “Amazing Grace.” (No doubt they all sang wonderfully, but as I was stumbling along in this group, I can’t comment.)
The rest of the evening saw Singers offering excellent renditions of Broadway numbers, including “I Will Never Leave You” from Side Show (Sarah Martens and Alison Austin) and “Somewhere That’s Green” from Little Shop of Horrors (Christie Freeman). One song, from the soundtrack of The Greatest Showman, was performed in “lyrical sign” by Mackenzie Cameron. With gesture and audiovisual accompaniment, she presented a strong affirmation of the value of all individual selves.
There were less serious videos too, mainly focusing on the strange (potentially mesolithic or druidic) happenings at Syd’s cottage. Who knew?
Other humour included Jim Brown’s retelling of “Lindercella: A Tairyfale”—while he was dressed as Donald J. Trump—and the Nasal Academy Quintet’s rendition of “Singers UNPLUGGED: The True Story,” whose anonymous composer set out to describe, in gross detail, the difficulties of singing with a head cold.
The only offering from an opera, “Che gelida manina” from Puccini’s La bohème, was performed brilliantly by tenor Patrick Jang. Seeing some of the younger and newer members of the Peterborough Singers display their remarkable talents was a highlight this year, as was the variety of musical styles on offer.
Popular music was well represented. Heather Knechtel kicked off the second half with “A Case of You” by Joni Mitchell, accompanying herself on the piano. This piece provided a taste of what will be on offer at the Singers’ February concert, Canadian Legends. Delaney Cameron performed “Taylor the Latte Boy,” a Heisler & Goldrich composition best known for being recorded by Susan Egan (2004) and Kristin Chenoweth (2005). Katie Carter sang an even more contemporary song, while accompanying herself on the ukulele—”Fire,” by singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles. In April 2019, Rolling Stone called it “A Song You Need to Know.”
Traditional songs rounded out the program. Pam Birrell proved her chops by performing “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” the exceptionally powerful (and high!) version arranged, I think, by Margaret Bonds, the first black soloist to perform with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1933. Jens Haegg, with the aid of only a bottle partially filled with something (for tuning or lubrication?), sang “The Otonabee Boatman”—based loosely on Copland’s “The Boatman’s Dance.” Then, to begin to draw the Un-Concert to a close, the Last Call Tenors of the choir sang “The Parting Glass.”
It remained only for all the Peterborough Singers in attendance to take to the stage to give a preview of one of the numbers that the choir will perform in the upcoming Yuletide Cheer concert, “In Dulci Jubilo” arranged by Karl Jenkins and admirably directed by Mary Taves. Our thanks go to Peterborough Singers’ Board Member Sarah McGuire (Fundraising) for all her behind-the-scenes work. An additional thank you (and credit for all these photographs) is due to Jason Ryan for documenting this fun event.