In the fall of 1981, a young conductor, Jeff Joudrey, first directed The Cantabile Singers. While numerous singers have performed with the choir over the past 37 years, four members of the original choir remain. They are Mary Layton, Helen Bell, Susan Carter – this writer’s wife – and Kent Loughead.
“I remember thinking at our first rehearsal that this music was over my head,” Loughead said. “But, within a period of time I remember thinking ‘if I can learn Bach’s B Minor Mass, I am up for anything.’ It is the most rewarding choral experience of my life and I am forever indebted to Jeff Joudrey for having Cantabile take the plunge.”
Layton had played the clarinet in the Truro Concert Band for a number of years.
“Though I had never sung in a choir before,” she said, “I joined Cantabile in January of its first year. Jeff Joudrey demanded a lot from his singers, and at first I had my doubts, but soon, his ability as a teacher, and his obvious love for music had me looking forward to Monday nights.”
Carter, who had previous voice training, was invited to attend the first rehearsal by Roberta Lindsay.
“I remember a young, intense and talented Jeff darting about and before very long, I loved choral singing. It certainly requires hard work; there’s a challenge when striving for excellence but it is so musically rewarding.”
Bell had previously sung in choirs in both med school and Truro churches.
“In 1981, I spotted an ad at the library for adult continuing education about the start of a community choir,” she said. “Our first rehearsal had, I think, about 12 women and no men. Singing in an adult choir inspired me to take singing lessons.”
The choir, which has grown to more than 50 members, continues to inspire large audiences. It’s rather unique that the outstanding group has had only three conductors during its 37-year history. Joudrey conducted the first 17 years, Ross Thompson arrived in 1998 and conducted for 15 years and Chris Bowman took over in 2013 and is now in his fifth year.
“We have learned much from all of them,” Loughead said. “Not only are they all incredibly talented musicians and directors, they all possess that one thing you can’t teach – a passion and a drive for excellence. We have sung everything from Bach to Broadway and even an occasional battle with the language of Newfoundland. We have performed with piano, organ, brass, jazz bands, percussion, and symphonies.”
The Cantabile Singers have enjoyed many highlights including singing masterpieces such as Handel’s Messiah, Bach’s B Minor Mass and Mendelsohn’s Elijah, sung with the late, great Maureen Forrester as soloist. These concerts were sung with Halifax Choir, Camerata and Symphony Nova Scotia.
“Singing with Cantabile has opened my ears to styles of music that I was not even aware of,” Layton said. “For me, however, the highlights have been the opportunities to sing many choral masterpieces.”
The choir, now the Cantabile Society, encompasses The Cantabile Singers, Cantabile Impact and Cantabile Boys Choir. Expanding on an idea by Thompson, Choirs For Comfort was born as a way to assist after the 2004 tsunami. Carrying on annually, money is raised for local and international charities.
With a number of Truro and area choirs involved, the huge event is capably coordinated by Cantabile and members Lynn and Malcolm MacPherson. This year’s recent concert, with Scotiabank matching the choir’s proceeds, exceeded $11,000 for the local branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association.
Carter remembered the lighter side of it all, after-performance memories, friendships and gatherings.
“The bus rides home from Halifax after our final Messiah concert at Christmas time, this is still a highlight to me. We would board the bus after the concert in long dresses and tuxedos, tired but elated, hungry and thirsty. The bus would head for Tony’s Donairs on Robie Street in Halifax. Jeff (Joudrey) would leap out and return as our waiter, tuxedo and all.
“Helen Bell and Ross (Thompson) hosted lively year-end barbecues for many years; there were many good sing-songs. Bob and Marie Braedley opened their home many times following concert gatherings. Singing in the choir with these three exceptional conductors has certainly enriched my life. This will continue for many, both young and not so young.”
- Carter’s column appears every second Tuesday in the Truro Daily News. If you have a column idea, contact him at 902 673-2857.