The Jubilee Chorale traces its roots to the First Christian Reformed Church of Orillia where, in 1958, about a dozen young people sang a welcome to their new minister. The group decided to continue singing together and began practices at one member’s boarding house. They performed at various churches and halls, as well as special services at the Christian Reformed Church. In the church member’s native Holland, every little community had its own choir. So the group quickly grew to about fifty performers under founding director Albert Taekema. They were known as the Christian Choral/Choir Society. Rudolf Heydens, also associated with the Christian Reformed Church, became director in 1960.
The first non-Dutch person, Fran Richardson, joined the choir in 1962. Shortly after, the group took the name Jubilee Chorale and advertised for new members in the community. Under this new name, the choir presented its first major performance, Bach’s “The Passion according to St Luke”, at St James Anglican Church in Orillia on April 11, 1965, conducted by Rudolf Heydens, and accompanied by Gerald Death. And so began the choir’s evolution to the community based choir it is today.
Later in 1965, Ken Mills, an elementary school music teacher, took over as conductor. In November 1966, with Ken Mills conducting and Shirley Dunlop (now Shirley Snell) accompanying on the piano, the Chorale performed a concert which included folk as well as sacred music, at Mount Slaven Public School in Orillia. Since most of the members were Dutch, some of the concert was sung in the Dutch language. The next year, November 1967, with the same conductor and accompanist, the Chorale presented its first annual concert at the Orillia Opera House. These were fall concerts until 1974, when the switch was made to the traditional annual Jubilee Chorale Spring Concerts at the Orillia Opera House
.Poor health forced Ken Mills to resign in 1989, having served as director for 24 years. Interim arrangements were made until early 1990, when Robert Wight became the conductor from 1990 to 1992. Larry Beer took over as music director in September 1992. His experience in school music programs and groups proved to be a strong asset to the choir. In October 1999 professional voice and piano teacher, Susanna Audia-Bryant, stepped into the music director’s role. An Accomplished soloist and experienced choral singer, Susanna brought her enthusiasm and music knowledge to the Chorale.
In 2001, Susanna was followed in the Music Director’s position, by Beverley (Hughes) Orr. As well as being an accomplished church organist and pianist, Beverley brought with her a wealth of experience directing school and church choral groups and musicals. The Chorale would be under Beverley’s capable leadership for seven years.
This 50th year was also marked by the stepping down of both the director Beverley Orr and the long-serving accompanist, Shirley Snell. Shirley had served the Chorale with her amazing piano virtuosity since 1966; for forty-two years.
In September 2008, Angela Lafontaine became the Chorale’s seventh musical director. Angela’s beautiful soprano voice and choral leadership skills are challenging the Jubilee Chorale to new heights. Also in September 2008, Marilyn de Lang joined the Chorale as the new and third accompanist. Marilyn’s superb skills at the piano were enthusiastically welcomed and graciously received by the Chorale. Unfortunately, Marilyn was with us for only one year. However, in September 2010, the Chorale was very pleased to welcome the return of Brent Mayhew, who had served along with Shirley Snell, as our second accompanist for 10 years, from 1998 to 2008. Brent amazing skills at the piano have given us the support to continue to make beautiful music together.
In June 2008 the Jubilee Chorale celebrated its 50th anniversary with its Fifty Years of Song concert at St Andrews Presbyterian Church in Orillia. It was a grand occasion. The choir numbers doubled as former members were invited to join in the singing of an exciting arrangement of Amazing Grace as the finale number.
A full complement in the Jubilee Chorale is 48 singers: 20 soprano, 12 alto, 8 tenor, and 8 bass. As with any living organism, change is constant, and the Chorale has welcomed many new members. However, loyalty is strong. Many have been in the group for over 15 years. There are several members wearing a 25 year pin.
In 1991 about 30 Chorale members toured south-west Germany for two weeks. They met, sang and socialized with a number of small community choirs, several of which had visited Orillia, and they were thrilled by the sound of their own voices resounding from the vaulted ceilings of Speyer Dome and even from the vats in a wine cellar!
In 1996 some of the choir toured Great Britain. In nine days, they visited the capital cities of Scotland, Wales and England, as well as the ancient city of Chester. This group had the thrill of singing in St Cuthberg’s Edinburg on Canada Day July first, St Wurbergh’s Chester, Cardiff City Hall, St James Picadilly and Westminster Abbey in London.
In 1999, the Chorale toured the Maritime Provinces with many stops along the way. Highlights were Canada’s 132nd birthday celebrations in Ottawa, singing in the Charlottetown Amphitheatre at Confederation House, a tour of Prince Edward Island, Rita’s Tea Room, The Cabot Trail, Peggy’s Cove, Hartland Covered Bridge, and in Quebec, Vaudeuil Dorion.
For each member, the memories and rewards of choir life are different. For most, singing is just fun and relaxing. For all, there is the friendship and closeness that comes from shared learning and experiences. By any measure, to be part of this choir which sings for pleasure and community service is a privilege.
In the summer of 2012, Angela Lafontaine moved to Ireland. The Choir was sorry to see Angela leave, but enthusiastically welcomedthe new director, Chad Jermey. Along with a superb tenor voice, Chad brings to the choir a wealth of experience in chorale directing.
In the summer of 2013, Chad Jermey decided to return to University and pursue further education, so we lost him to the University of Toronto.
In September 2013, Meghan Simpson joined the Jubilee Chorale as Director. Her youth, enthusiasm, beautiful soprano voice and excellent musical leadership have been enthusiastically welcomed by choir members. In the summer of 2016, Meghan went on to pursue other interests.
In September of 2016, the Chorale’s accompanist, Brent Mayhew, took on the dual role of Music Director AND Accompanist. The choir is looking forward to new challenges under Brent’s leadership.