Oratorio Choir begins 40th season Sept. 10

Elisabeth Dowson
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A new season of singing begins Sept. 10 on a day that will usher in the Swift Current Oratorio Choir’s 40th year of choral excellence in southwest Saskatchewan.

Shirley Ens, a seven-year member of the Swift Current Oratorio Choir, hopes for a good turnout at their first practice Sept. 10. The group meets every Monday at 7:30 p.m. at the Zion Mennonite Church (78 6th Ave. N.E.) in Swift Current.

She noted that anyone who is passionate about music and can carry a tune is welcome, including those from out of town.

“We’ve got a few that come from Eastend, Frontier and Shaunavon, and close by Mankota, and we’ve had people that have come from Hazlet every week, all winter long.

“Just show up and try it out,” Ens urged, “even if you’re not sure. Come for at least two or three weeks and give it a good shot. Even if you can’t come on the first day, you’re still welcome,” she added, allowing for those still involved in harvest to join once crops are in the bin.

“Anybody that’s coming new, if they indicate they’re not a very strong singer or they don’t read music, we pair them with somebody who is accomplished and reads music and is a strong singer so that you can ask questions or you can hear.”

The Oratorio Choir performs two major concerts each year, and they also sing at the Remembrance Day Service.

“We do two performances a year: one just before Christmas and one in the spring, our big one where we have the Regina Symphony Players come, and that will be a really big thing this year because of the 40 years that we’ve been singing.”

The choir began under the direction of John Poettcker, who led the choir for the first 30 years. Since then, Marcia McLean (Christmas) and Greg McLean (spring) have taken over the leadership of the choir. The Christmas performance is typically less ambitious than the spring production, in which soloists and members of the Regina Symphony Orchestra play a key role.

“The pieces that we sing at Christmas time are not the same challenge … as what we would do in the springtime. The last few years, we’ve had a combination of some Christmas music for part of the program and for the other part of the program we have something else.

“Last year our performance title was Tidings of Comfort and Joy, because Christmas is often a very sad time for a lot of people, so … the first half of the program was a lot of songs of remembrance so that it wasn’t all Christmas music and it was a nice variety. Having that kind of a program has really been well received by the community.”

Ens also championed the health benefits of choral singing.’

“Singing is really good for your health. Your posture has to change. It keeps your mind active. [Marcia] teaches you the proper ways of breathing and we do warm up exercises beforehand, limbering up our bodies to get the tension out, and also our voices, because if you just jump in and you don’t use proper technique when you’re singing, you’re not going to get the quality of sound out but you also can damage your voice.”

All music is provided, although those who wish can purchase their own scores.

“There is a small fee to join, but it’s very small for the amount of work that you get and the music education.”

Sponsorships play a major role in the Oratorio Choir’s success. All donors are listed in the printed programs for each performance, and anyone contributing $100 will receive a complimentary ticket to the Spring Concert.

“Music costs, although we can borrow from the [Saskatchewan] Choral Federation or other choirs sometimes, but it costs for our venues, it costs bringing in our Symphony Players, or if we bring in soloists then it costs. We try to use local people or people who are up and coming, to give them a hand up, exposure.”

The Oratorio Choir provides the only opportunity outside of Saskatoon and Regina for those interested in choral music to sing major works with a professional orchestra.

“It’s a good way of getting to know people, see what else is out there, and share your love of music,” adding, “My view of it is it’s really like getting a music lesson every week. The amount I have learned in seven years that I’ve been involved has just been phenomenal.”

Organizations: Zion Mennonite Church, Remembrance Day Service, Regina Symphony Players Regina Symphony Orchestra Saskatchewan Choral Federation

Geographic location: Saskatchewan, Swift Current, Shaunavon Mankota Saskatoon

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