The VOCA Chorus of Toronto (founded as The East York Choir in 1986 by Stephanie Piercey-Beames) is a dynamic, mixed-voice, auditioned ensemble which performs an eclectic mix of classical & contemporary music (including several premieres of arrangements by our artistic director & conductor, Jenny Crober) in collaboration with a variety of celebrated artists & ensembles.
Members of our artistic staff include our artistic director/conductor Jenny Crober, collaborative pianist Elizabeth Acker, and six professional sectional leads: soprano, alto, two tenors and two basses. (Find out more about our staff on our “About Us: Artistic Staff” page.)
J.S. Bach’s “Magnificat”, the Mozart “Requiem”, Orff’s “Carmina Burana”, Handel’s “Messiah”, the Vivaldi “Gloria”, Winter & Halley’s “Missa Gaia/Earth Mass”, Macmillan & Brickenden’s “Celtic Mass for the Sea” and the Fauré “Requiem” are just some examples of larger works the choir has performed with professional orchestras or instrumental ensembles. We’ve also performed a wide variety of contemporary classical repertoire, including compositions and commissioned works by Canadian composers, along with folk/world/roots music, jazz and musical theatre selections.
On Saturday, April 30, 2022, VOCA performed our long-awaited “Star Songs” concert (originally schedulled for April 2020), including a world premiere of the stunning Anang (A Star) by renowned Cree composer Andrew Balfour, featuring guests Colleen Allen, sax, Shawn Grenke, organ and Jamie Drake, percussion and drums.
On Saturday, May 5, 7:30 pm, at our “DREAMSONGS” concert, the VOCA Chorus of Toronto was thrilled and honoured to present the Canadian Premiere of “Dreamweaver” by world-renowned composer, Ola Gjeilo, featuring our accompanist Elizabeth Acker, with soprano soloist Ellen McAteer and the VOCA Chamber Strings Orchestra.
Also featured that evening was a Toronto (and possibly Canadian) premiere of Ola Gjeilo’s SATB setting of his stunning “Song Of The Universal”, scored for choir, string orchestra and piano, with an exquisite text by Walt Whitman.
Other works included Mr. Gjeilo’s gorgeous “The Lake Isle”, for steel-string guitar, piano and string quartet, with text by William Butler Yeats; “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”, Toronto composer Eleanor Daley’s sublime setting of the same text; Gordon Lightfoot’s classic, “Pussywillows, Cat-tails”, beautifully arranged by another Toronto composer, Bonnie Penfound; Ottawa’s Laura Hawley’s joyful, jazz-inspired setting of Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 43 (All Days Are Nights)” and Kingston composer Mark Sirett’s exquisite arrangement of the trad. Irish ballad, “Carrickfergus”.
We were joined by several superb guest artists: Ellen McAteer, soprano; Jason Fowler, guitar; Jeremy Potts & Jennifer Burford, violin; Alex McLeod, viola; Mary-Katherine Finch, cello; and the VOCA Chamber Strings Orchestra.
On Saturday, May 27, 2017, the VOCA Chorus of Toronto featured Carl Orff’s Chamber version of his monumental masterpiece “Carmina Burana”, with special guests TorQ Percussion Quartet, pianist Shawn Grenke, soprano Elizabeth Polese, baritone Michael Nyby, tenor Christopher Mayell & vocal music students from the Claude Watson School for the Arts.
That evening, VOCA also featured a world premiere of a 2 marimba – 4 player arrangement of Ola Gjeilo’s “The Spheres” (a setting requested by the composer), performed by TorQ Percussion Quartet; an Ontario premiere of Ottawa composer Elise Letourneau’s “My Symphony”; Ola Gjeilo’s “The Ground” (accompanied by piano, marimba and vibraphone – with Mr. Gjeilo’s permission) & Vancouver composer Brian Tate’s arrangement of the Kenyan water song “Kawouno Wan Gi Pi”, also featuring TorQ Percussion.
Canadian composers, songwriters and arrangers whose works we have featured over the seasons include: Andrew Balfour, Elise Letourneau, Donald Patriquin, Sarah Quartel, Stephen Chatman, Matthew Emery, Stephen Hatfield, Eleanor Daley, Mark Sirett, Healey Willan, Scott Macmillan, Paul Halley, Ed Henderson, Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, Jane Siberry, Dylan Bell, James Gordon, Jenny Crober, Beth Hanson & others.
Contemporary international composers whose works the VOCA has featured include Ola Gjeilo, Ēriks Ešenvalds, Frode Fjellheim, Morten Lauridsen, Eric Whitacre, Bob Chilcott, Elizabeth Alexander, Frode Fjellheim, Paul Winter, Karl Jenkins, Alexander L’Estrange and others.
At each concert, we perform repertoire for mixed choir (SATB & SATB divisi), along with works which separately feature our sopranos and altos, & our tenors and basses.
Our season consists of two concerts, a Cabaret / Silent Auction, & performances at benefit & community events. We’ve been honoured to open the Agnes Macphail Awards Ceremony for almost twenty years, have been performing holiday concerts for over two decades at local retirement homes, & have been asked to perform for several seasons with the Common Boots Theatre Company (formerly Theatre Columbus) as part of their December outdoor theatre productions.
Our artistic director, Jenny Crober has been involved with our choir – first as accompanist (since the early 1990’s) then as artistic director & conductor (since the Fall of 2004) – for almost 30 years.
Our talented and versatile accompanist is Elizabeth Acker.
For several seasons, several wonderful professional section leads have provided invaluable musical leadership for our group. Our current leads are: soprano Sonya Harper Nyby, mezzo Jennifer Routhier, tenors Jacques Arsenault & Lee Clapp, & baritones Janaka Welihinda & Nicholas Borg. Past leads and guest choristers have included: sopranos Elizabeth Polese, Kelsey Taylor, Caitlin Wood, Maeve Palmer and Penelope Dale; mezzos Lyndsay Promane, Victoria Borg and Adanya Dunn; tenors Andrew Haji, Matthew Dalen, Christopher Mayell, Tonatiuh Abrego, Martin Houtman and Eugene Burke; & baritones Justin Welsh, Jeremy Ludwig and Bryan Estabrooks.
(*Please see the ABOUT US: Artistic Staff page to find out more about our team of professional musicians.)
The VOCA Chorus of Toronto has been honoured and delighted to share the stage with a wide variety of wonderful guest artists (some of Canada’s finest performers), including: guitarists Michael Occhipinti, Jason Fowler, Kevin Barrett, Charlie Roby & Paul Bartlett; organist Shawn Grenke; bassists Rob Clutton, Louis Simao and Neal Evans; the Talisker Players orchestra; violinists Mary Elizabeth Brown, Elizabeth Loewen Andrews, Jeremy Potts, Jennifer Burford, Laurel Mascarenhas, Kathryn Sugden & Rona Goldensher; violists Rory McLeod, Alex McLeod, Mary McGeer & Steven Marvin; cellists Wendy Solomon, Mary-Katherine Finch, Laura Jones, Rachel Pomedli, Sybil Shanahan & Jill Vitols; trumpeters Norman Engel & Michael Fedyshyn; sopranos Ellen McAteer, Eve-lyn de la Haye, Claire de Sévigné, Jennie Such & Elizabeth Polese; mezzo sopranos Marion Newman & Vilma Indra Vitols; tenors Andrew Haji, James McLennan & Christopher Mayell; baritones Alexander Dobson & Michael Nyby; flutist (& tin whistle, Irish flute, pan pipes player) Les Allt; percussionists Ray Dillard, Jamie Drake, Adam Campbell, Daniel Morphy & Richard Burrows; Nick Coulter, Andrew Morris, Larry Graves & Fulé Badoe; harpist Lori Gemmell; clarinetists Martin van de Ven & Jonno Lightstone; numerous Celtic musicians, including Sharlene Wallace, Loretto Reid, Leon Taheny, Saskia Tomkins, Steàfàn Hannigan, Anne Lederman, Scott Macmillan, Rose Bolton, October Browne and Kelly Hood; actor Deborah Drakeford; Latin band, Cassava; and storyteller/dancer, Adwoa Badoe.
Our choir has also had the great pleasure and privilege of working with several renowned clinicians, including Norwegian/NYC-based composer & pianist Ola Gjeilo; Canadian composers Stephen Hatfield, Sarah Quartel & Matthew Emery; Tafelmusik Chamber Choir founder/artistic director Ivars Taurins; the Nathaniel Dett Chorale’s founder/artistic director Brainerd Blyden-Taylor; Zimfira Poloz, artistic director of the Hamilton Children’s Choir; the Canadian Opera Company Chorus’ Sandra Horst; U of T professor of voice, tenor Darryl Edwards; Toronto Masque Theatre’s (now “Confluence”) artistic director Larry Beckwith; Stratford vocal coach & UWO voice instructor, soprano Jennie Such; jazz composer, performer & producer, Dylan Bell & Guelph singer-songwriter James Gordon.
SPECIAL EVENTS, INCLUDING CARNEGIE HALL:
The renowned Norwegian/NYC-based composer, pianist and recording artist Ola Gjeilo asked Jenny Crober to assemble a choral ensemble, including several VOCA members, to join with choristers (through Distinguished Concerts International New York – DCINY) to perform in a concert which featured two of Mr. Gjeilo’s major works, Dreamweaver and Song of the Universal – with string orchestra and with the composer at the piano – at Carnegie Hall in April 2018. Over 250 choristers from across the globe performed in this extraordinary choral event.
Jenny Crober and Halifax conductor Pierre Perron had the honour of co-conducting a mass choir (consisting of singers from 6 different provinces, including almost 40 VOCA choristers) in a performance of Scott Macmillan’s “Celtic Mass for the Sea” at NYC’s legendary Carnegie Hall in May, 2015.
(We performed Halifax composer Scott Macmillan’s and librettist Jennyfer Brickenden’s “Celtic Mass for the Sea” in 2013, with the composer on guitar and the librettist as narrator, accompanied by full Celtic ensemble.)
* See PERFORMANCES: Past Concerts for more details about our choir’s concerts and other performing events from previous seasons.
We were also thrilled to be featured in a broadcast on CBC Radio One’s ‘Vinyl Cafe’ with Stuart McLean in January, 2009. They played Donna Rhodenizer’s hauntingly beautiful “The Love of the Sea”, a favourite of the choir. The composer, who heard the radio broadcast from her home in Nova Scotia, sent a lovely note of appreciation and congratulations.
Our choir and conductor, Jenny Crober, along with renowned conductors, Brainerd Blyden-Taylor and Mark Sirett and their ensembles, were also featured in a nationwide broadcast on CBC Radio’s “The World at Six” on Christmas Eve, 2007, in a program devoted to the appeal of community choirs.
CHORAL ARRANGEMENTS BY ARTISTIC DIRECTOR:
Our choir has also has premiered a number of arrangements by our artistic director, Jenny Crober. 2007 saw the premiere of her arrangement of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Song for a Winter’s Night”, which featured guitarists Paul Bartlett and Charlie Roby and soloists Lindy Pinto and Pamela Maxwell-Steele. We were so thankful to the late and legendary Red Shea, one of Gordon Lightfoot’s favourite lead guitarists, for his very generous help with the guitar accompaniment. In 2008, our choir premiered Ms. Crober’s arrangement of Zachary Richard’s “Dans le Nord Canadien”, which featured soloist Chi Chi Godin, guitarist Charlie Roby and percussionist Ray Dillard. Our ‘Celtic Spirit’ (June 2009) concert included premieres of Ms. Crober’s arrangements of “The Star of the County Down” (for tenors and basses) and “She Moved Through the Fair”, an SATB arrangement featuring tenor soloist (Andrew Haji) with tin whistle (Loretto Reid), Uillean pipes (Ray Caldwell) and Celtic harp (Sharlene Wallace). In 2009, VOCA premiered her SATB arrangement of Joni Mitchell’s “River”, featuring soloist Jenny Sardone, Elizabeth Acker, piano, Michael Occhipinti, guitar and Jamie Drake, drums. “River” (Jenny Sardone, with pianist, Liz Acker, guitarist Kevin Barrett & drummer Ray Dillard) and “Dans le Nord Canadien” (Chi Chi Godin, with Jenny Sardone & Kevin Barrett, guitars & Ray Dillard, percussion) were performed again in December of 2015 at a concert “Snow Angel”. VOCA ‘re-visited’ our (2007) premiere performance of River again in December 2017 with most our original performers: Jenny Sardone, Michael Occhipinti and Jamie Drake, with the addition of Rob Clutton, bass.
25th ANNIVERSARY YEAR:
In 2011, we celebrated our 25th anniversary with two wonderful concerts.
In June, we performed Carl Orff’s legendary “Carmina Burana” to a full house, with soloists Eve-Lyn de la Haye, soprano, Alexander Dobson, baritone and James McLennan, tenor; percussionists, Ray Dillard, Andrew Morris, Dean Pomeroy, Julia Cleveland, and Craig Snowden; pianist, Shawn Grenke; and members of the High Park Choirs Chamber Choir, Allegria. The second half featured an eclectic ‘anthology’ of favourites from past concerts, including African, Celtic, classical, jazz, and musical theatre selections.
In December of 2011, our 25th year celebrations included a performance of our first commissioned work, “Winter Solstice” by celebrated B.C. composer, Stephen Hatfield. Our special guest that evening was the founder of The East York Choir, Stephanie Piercey-Beames, of Gatineau, Quebec. She performed several pieces, including the “Magnificat For Turning” by another celebrated Canadian composer, Donald Patriquin of Eastman, Quebec, who we were thrilled to welcome as a guest in our audience that evening.
Photo credit.: ‘Carmina Burana’ dress rehearsal (Fri., June 3, 2011) – Lorraine Dillard