The Sooke Philharmonic Chorus sings Purcell

Above: The Chorus in 2010

This coming weekend, the Sooke Philharmonic Chorus joins the Sooke Philharmonic Chamber Players in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. Join us on Saturday, March 31st, at the Sooke Baptist Church at 8pm, or Sunday April 1st at the New St. Mary’s Church in Metchosin at 2:30 pm, for a programme of work by this terrific seventeenth-century English composer.
There are several fine vocal ensembles in Sooke, and each has its own sound and character and type of repertoire, but the only the Sooke Philharmonic Chorus has the distinction of performing with an orchestra.
The chorus sings two programmes (four concerts) each season, one in December and one in March/April. This keeps the singers busy rehearsing once a week (Saturdays), from September to December, and January to March.
The choir had its start as the all-female Sooke Festival Chorus, under the direction of Christopher Symons, for the 2000 Sooke Festival of Performing Arts in August, 2000, and performed Symons’ own Mass for Three Voices. Gail Abernethy, who sang in that concert, recalls that the Sooke ensemble Ekoos formed the core of the Festival Chorus, and was supplemented by other singers. The chorus also performed the Vivaldi Gloria, under Norman Nelson, that August.
Men joined in 2001, and in October of that year, the choir performed the Vivaldi Gloria, with male voices this time, and Carey Newman, and Voya and Jo Yawney as soloists. Christopher and Sue Symons moved back to the interior, and then to England, where they are both still fine. They are currently living in Peasedown St John, just outside Bath.
The choir became the Sooke Philharmonic Chorus in 2002, with Mary Holland as director.
Wade Noble took over as the director in 2005.
Over the years, the chorus has sung its way through a notable selection of some of the most beautiful choral music written, including, of course Handel’s Messiah, but also the Rutter Requiem, Haydn’s Mass in Time of War and Nelson Mass, Schubert’s Mass Number 2, Bach’s Cantatas and Christmas Oratorio, Cherubini’s Requiem, music by Beethoven, Vivaldi, Mozart, as well as Vaughan Williams Fantasia and Mystical Songs.
Dido and Aeneas
is based on Virgil’s long poem about epic journey and war.
The chorus is made up of around twenty-five singers, more than half of whom are from the Sooke area, and the rest from the Western Communities. A quick review of the membership list reveals a variety of backgrounds: retirees, of course, but also potters, bakers, a mailman, a teacher, an osteopath. This miscellaneous collection of singers, under the direction of Wade Noble, produces a rich, nuanced sound that delights the ears.
Choir members all have previous singing experience and are able to read music, although being able to sight read is not an essential skill. Susan and Bryan Potter, who have been in the choir since 2002 and 2001 respectively, describe downloading their parts onto an MP3 player, and practising while doing dishes—definitely a pleasant way to multitask!
The Sooke Philharmonic Chorus is always open to new members, and, as in most choirs (it seems) the lower voices are especially welcome. Rehearsals are intense, but enjoyable and very satisfying, according to the Potters, who have been inspired by singing with the orchestra to the point of taking up wind instruments themselves.
Do join us this weekend to pay homage to Purcell, in a programme that includes, besides Dido and Aeneas, the Chacony in G minor and Fantasias Numbers 6 and 10.
See you there!


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