The History of the Grand River Chorus

The Grand River Chorus, a mixed voice, auditioned community choir of about 60 people, provides high quality choral music performances to the residents of Brantford and surrounding areas. Volunteer choristers, friends and contracted employees (Artistic Director and Accompanist) work hard to present a season of four, diverse concerts per year and participate in other singing opportunities as able. Our repertoire is diverse and includes major concert works of the Masters (Handel, Bach, Mozart), contemporary composers, and local composers.

The first GRC concert was held in the spring of 1999. Earlier that year, Carol Anne Feldstein, B.Mus., and Robert Phillips, B.Mus. recognized both the interest in choral music in Brantford and the lack of a community choir in the City. They issued a call for singers with the interest in creating an auditioned choir in Brantford. About forty choristers prepared and presented, under Phillips’ direction, a concert that included one of Handel’s Coronation Anthems and Mozart’s Requiem.

Incorporation as a not-for-profit soon followed and we were officially approved as a charitable organization in the year 2000. Our first President of the Board of Directors was Alvin Spaxman.

In the intervening years, the GRC’s accomplishments included:

• Presenting 4 concerts per year as well as singing at small local events by invitation.

• Learning and presenting major works by great classical composers and exploring choral genres including opera, jazz, gospel and broadway musicals.

• Growing from 40 choristers to a base of about 60 choristers (expanding to over 70 some seasons).

• Expanding our music library to over 300 titles, many by Canadian composers.

• Engaging professional soloists and professional musicians to expand and embellish our repertoire.

• Performing works created by and for the Grand River Chorus – our choir is rich in talent and has had several talented members and friends who have composed works specifically to be sung by the GRC. We count Jeff Smallman, Zachary Windus, Ron Beckett, John Van Mannen, and Richard Cunningham, among these individuals.

• Performing Handel oratorios, Bach Passions and other great works (e.g., Rachmaninoff’s Vespers) over the years.

• Touring Europe (2010) to sing with Chor Musica Wien (Vienna, Austria) and Samuel Scheidt Ensemble (Halle, Germany). This trip was a great success both for meeting and singing with other choirs, but also as a learning experience – touring the homes of some great composers. We took the opportunity to sing Bruckner’s Locus Iste at St. Florian Abbey in Austria (the burial place of Anton Bruckner), sang at Haydnsaal, Esterhazy Palace, Vienna (where Haydn worked for much of his life), sang at Bach’s birth home in Eisenach, Germany and at St. Thomaskirche in Leipzig (where Bach is buried) and performed a paid concert at Saint Nicholas Church in Prague, Czech Republic. The Brantford Expositor ran a series of four articles chronicling our trip – which provided us some local advertising as well.

• Advancing our musical knowledge with workshops presented by musical professionals. Workshops have included Warmup Techniques and Breath Control, by Jennifer Moir, former Artistic Director of the Woodstock Fanshawe Singers (Woodstock, ON); and How to Sing Gospel Like a Gospel Choir, by Brainerd Blyden Taylor, Artistic Director of the Nathaniel Dett Chorale (Toronto, ON)

• Our 2015/16 season included presenting Stravinsky’s Mass, a complex contemporary composition. The final concert of that season was a trip into Brantford’s past, with a concert commemorating local, indigenous poet and performer E. Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake) (10 March 1861 – 7 March 1913). The concert featured Johnson’s poems set to music composed by Canadians; Ojibway storyteller Aaron Bell; and the White Pine Dancers as guest artists. A display was presented by the local Woodland Cultural Centre.