This afternoon in the sleepy, golden-leafed village of St. Jacob’s Ontario, Menno Singers presents the first concert in their anniversary season.
This particular event will shine a spotlight on Abner Martin (my Dad) who founded this choir 60 years ago.
In the early years of the choir’s formation, they sang renaissance polyphony. In those days it was common practice to sing Latin motets in English translation. (Even at St. Mary Magdalene’s the choral library is full of anglicized versions of the renaissance classics.) My Dad says one of the principal inspiration for him was in fact not recordings of choral music, but the many touring college choirs from the states, performing live, at a very high standard, who passed through Waterloo giving concerts. Their repertoire and their excellence were a model for him. Another major influence were the regular broadcasts on the CBC of large choral works. The Mendelssohn choir was broadcast live every year singing Handel’s Messiah and Bach’s St. Matthew Passion.
After Menno Singers had a few seasons under their belt, they sang Bach’s B Minor Mass, a virtuoso piece that takes real commitment to pull off. My Dad said they rehearsed it for a year. It’s rare that any choral group devotes that much time to learning a piece these days, but maybe that’s not a bad idea. (As a personal note, my mum sang in that performance, and I was there too, just as yet not fully formed, in vitro!) Later on Menno Singers sponsored an ambitious project called “Mennonite Mass Choir” that brought together all kinds of singers from the towns and countryside. We had regional rehearsals near where we lived, and then got together for extremely exciting performances with a full orchestra and professional soloists. We performed all the best big things: Messiah, Creation, Elijah, Brahms’ Requiem (in English) in a choir of about 230 people. Unforgettable!
It’s my Dad who will be celebrated today, but I know there were many, many friends, family and volunteers who surrounded him and made the choir a sustainable success. I am reminded of the host of volunteers in my own choir who make the whole thing happen, and I am so grateful for their hard work, creativity, loyalty and imagination.
I’m also reminded that my Dad was very young when he started this group – he was only 21 years old! It reminds me that I need to support my students who are at this stage if they have a vision to strike out with a new idea. They’ll need a lot of help to get off the ground since things have changed a lot since 1955! But young people are versatile and clever, and who knows which of their sustainable projects we will be celebrating 60 years down the road?