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 various professional artists & ensembles.
The Bach “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”, & most recently, the Fauré “Requiem” are 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, folk/world/roots music (including concerts featuring Celtic and African selections), jazz, musical theatre and more.
The VOCA Chorus of Toronto featured Carl Orff’s Chamber version of his monumental masterpiece “Carmina Burana” at its May 27, 2017 concert with special guests TorQ Percussion Quartet, pianist Shawn Grenke, soprano Elizabeth Polese, baritone Michael Nyby & tenor Christopher Mayell, as well as several 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 renowned Norwegian / NYC-based composer 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: Stephen Hatfield, Donald Patriquin, Sarah Quartel, Stephen Chatman, Eleanor Daley, Healey Willan, Scott Macmillan, Elise Letourneau, Paul Halley, Mark Sirett, Ed Henderson, Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, Jane Siberry, Dylan Bell, James Gordon, Jenny Crober & others.
Contemporary international composers whose works the VOCA Chorus of Toronto has featured include Ola Gjeilo, Frode Fjellheim, Morten Lauridsen, Eric Whitacre, Elizabeth Alexander, Paul Winter, Bob Chilcott, Karl Jenkins, Alexander L’Estrange and others.
At each concert, we perform repertoire for mixed choir, along with works which separately feature our sopranos and altos, & our tenors and basses.
Our season consists of two concerts, as well as performances at several benefits & community events. We’ve been honoured to open the Agnes Macphail Awards Ceremony for almost fifteen years, have been performing holiday concerts for over two decades at local retirement homes, & have also been asked to perform for several seasons with the Common Boots Theatre Company (formerly Theatre Columbus) as part of their December outdoor theatre productions at the Evergreen Brick Works.
Our artistic director, Jenny Crober has been involved with our choir, first as accompanist (since the early 1990’s) then artistic director & conductor (since the Fall of 2004) for almost 25 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 Kelsey Taylor, mezzo soprano Jennifer Routhier, tenor Jacques Arsenault & baritone Janaka Welihinda. We’ve also been joined by several guest choristers, including tenors Matthew Dalen & Tonatiuh Abrego, & baritones Justin Welsh & Nicholas Borg.
(*See the PERFORMANCES: 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, Kevin Barrett, Charlie Roby & Paul Bartlett; organist Shawn Grenke; bassists Rob Clutton & Louis Simao; the Talisker Players orchestra; violinists Mary Elizabeth Brown, Elizabeth Loewen Andrews, Laurel Mascarenhas, Kathryn Sugden & Rona Goldensher; violists Rory McLeod, Mary McGeer & Steven Marvin; cellists Wendy Solomon, Laura Jones, Rachel Pomedli, Jill Vitols & Sybil Shanahan; trumpeters Norman Engel & Michael Fedyshyn; sopranos Jennie Such, Eve-lyn de la Haye, Claire de Lévigné & 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, Nick Coulter, Andrew Morris, Larry Graves & Fulé Badoe; harpist, Lori Gemmell; clarinetists Martin van de Ven & Jonno Lightstone; several Celtic musicians, including Sharlene Wallace, Loretto Reid, Leon Taheny, 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 and recording artist Ola Gjeilo; Canadian composers Stephen Hatfield and Sarah Quartel; Tafelmusik Chamber Choir Artistic Director Ivars Taurins; the Nathaniel Dett Chorale’s Brainerd Blyden-Taylor; Zimfira Poloz, artistic director of the Hamilton Children’s Choir; the Canadian Opera Company’s Chorus Master Sandra Horst; tenor and U of T professor of voice Darryl Edwards; Toronto Masque Theatre’s artistic director Larry Beckwith; soprano, Stratford vocal coach and UWO voice instructor Jennie Such; jazz composer, performer and producer, Dylan Bell and singer-songwriter James Gordon.
Carnegie Hall, NYC:
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 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.)
Upcoming event at Carnegie Hall: Renowned Norwegian/NYC-based composer, pianist and recording artist Ola Gjeilo has asked Jenny Crober to put together a choral ensemble, including several VOCA members, to join with choristers (through DCINY) to perform in a concert which will feature Mr. Gjeilo’s works – with string orchestra and with the composer at the piano – at Carnegie Hall in April 2018!
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.
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 soloists, Lindy Pinto and Pamela Maxwell-Steele, and guitarists Paul Bartlett and Charlie Roby. 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 riveting “Dans le Nord Canadien”, which featured soloist Chi Chi Godin, guitarist Charlie Roby and Ray percussionist Ray Dillard. Our ‘Celtic Spirit’ concert (June 2009) included premieres of Ms. Crober’s arrangements of two traditional Irish songs: “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”, which also featured the stunning “Snow Angel” cycle by Kingston area composer Sarah Quartel.
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.
See PERFORMANCES: Past Concerts for more details about these anniversary events.
Photo credit.: ‘Carmina Burana’ dress rehearsal (Fri., June 3, 2011) – Lorraine Dillard