Chamber Singers mark 50 years at UVic Music

by John Threlfall | March 4, 2024 | Alumni, Concert, Faculty

For 50 years, the UVic Chamber Singers have proven to be one of the most endearing — and enduring — ensembles in our School of Music. Over the years, the Chamber Singers have performed to enthusiastic audiences in 140 cities and 30 countries on 6 continents, and have been recorded for broadcast on the CBC, University of California Radio and NCRV Radio (Holland), as well as the national radio stations of China, Poland & Hungary. They have also been winners in the CBC choral competition and took part in a 2000 recording that won a Juno Award.

While their performances are primarily held in UVic’s Phillip T. Young Recital Hall, the Chamber Singers have transcended local boundaries by performing in venues around Vancouver Island, across BC, and, from 1987 to 2009, across the globe.

Today, the Chamber Singers are led by Music professor Adam Con, but Professor Emeritus Bruce More was the ensemble’s longest-standing conductor with an impressive 37-year tenure leading the group. While More retired in 2008, he continues to host alumni reunions and foster connections that strengthen the long and prestigious history of the Chamber Singers.

This spring, the Chamber Singers are marking their 50th anniversary with a mini-tour that includes March 2 performances in Port Alberni (following a day-long workshop with Urbanstreet Choir and Barkley Sounds Choir) and Parksville, alongside UVic Music Education alumni Brent Kellas (choral director at Bellenas Secondary) and Crystal-Anne Howell (choral director at Kwalikum Secondary).

2023-24 UVic Chamber Singers (photo: Kristy Farkas)

They will also be performing two concerts in Victoria: 2:30pm March 9 at UVic’s Phillip T Young Recital Hall, featuring the return of 40+ Chamber Singers alumni and conductor Bruce More performing Healey Willan’s “Rise Up My Fair One” (also available as a live stream), and 3:30pm March 10 at Broadview United alongside the University of Puget Sound Chamber Singers. Expect to hear a repertoire spanning 400 years of world and folk music, newly composed music, music of the Renaissance, Canadian composers and traditional African American spirituals.

Their 50th anniversary mini-tour will then conclude at a very special April 21 performance at Vancouver’s Pacific Spirit Church, alongside 2024 Distinguished Alumni Award recipient and Chamber Singers alumna Carrie Tennant, featuring a pre-concert reception open to all UVic alumni.

An exhilarating experience

For former Chamber Singers director Bruce More, the 50th anniversary offers both a chance to reconnect with former singers and to lead the group in song once more. “I’ve been retired for 15 years and am well along the path of aging, so it is a wonderful reminder of the joys of working with gifted young musicians,” he says. “I expect it will be an exhilarating experience to be in front of Chamber Singers alumni again, although I’m not much older than some that I conducted in the 1970s!” When asked for a favourite memory from his years leading the Chamber Singers, More singles out their touring years. “The desire to become a touring ensemble was greatly enhanced in 1981 during our first trip to California by the realization that several of the singers had never seen a palm tree before,” he recalls.

Five years later, we were sailing down the Danube; 10 years later we were seeing long bread-lines in Leningrad; 15 years later we were singing with students in Soweto; 20 years later, singing in the Great Hall of the People in Tiananmen Square; and 25 years later sharing a concert with a Cambodian school choir in the presence of a Cambodian prince.” (Read about more touring adventures in More’s book, The Conductor is the One in Front: 37 Years with the UVic Chamber Singers.)

Conductor Bruce More (bottom centre)

An education on multiple levels

An education on multiple levels Current Chamber Singers leader Adam Con echoes More’s enthusiasm. “The UVic Chamber Singers is that one place to practice the art of singing at the highest level with others who share that burning passion,” he says. “There’s something about having that very high-level experience that sparks a huge interest in composing, conducting and many other activities in music.”

Far from going out of fashion, choral presentations continue to be an essential part of public ceremonies internationally, ranging from coronations and presidential inaugurations to the Olympics. Con sees this as proof that singing together is a quintessential human endeavour. “Music is like food: why do we eat? To Live! Why do we sing? The same, to live,” he says. “Worldwide, we see people make art, music and dance not only as a part of culture but also as part of simply being and passing down stories and experiences.”

But Con points out the Chamber Singers also fills an essential pedagogical role for music educators. “It’s important in the education of young musicians to experience all genres and all eras,” he says. “Our students must learn to use their voice in different ways to honour the respective singing traditions: this is part of a solid education in music and singing, and it practices the decolonized approach to choral music education.”

Con is already planning for the future of the Chamber Singers. “Next year we hope to do an international competition and more touring. Future years will include the CBC Choral Competition and expanding our horizons to embrace other communities of singing. We hope the larger community will come out to support our efforts to fundraise for these projects as well.”

Adam Con

Planning for the future

Indeed, a generous contribution from a Chamber Singers alumni in 2023 led to the establishment of the Bruce More Legacy Fund, aimed at supporting the Chamber Singers and their future tours.

“I am truly honoured to loan my name to the Legacy Fund, and I look forward to the future benefits provided by its growth over time,” says More. “Of course, I hope the Chamber Singers will continue forever—but, at the very least, I hope it will offer the opportunity to School of Music students to perform the best of the choral art and to experience the community that can come with it.”