By Jayne Foster Staff Reporter / News Optimist
It was a collaboration of joy.
Two groups of singers took the stage at the Dekker Centre for the Performing Arts Sunday evening for the choral presentation Wintersong, featuring the Battlefords own Gallery Singers and 31 members of a newly established Saskatoon group, Joy of Vox. The evening offered accompanied, a cappella and solo performances from gospel to pop and folk to rock - and in more languages than just English.
Led and accompanied by co-directors Dianne Gryba and JoAnne Kasper, the Gallery Singers filled their performance with a variety of music and called on the talents of other collaborators as well, such as those of harmoni 'cat' Ben Byl, cellist Zaide Maschich and Gallery Singer Andre van der Nerwe's son Jean. Gallery Singer Catherine Skinner also added flute to one piece.
Particularly poignant was a presentation of the Korean Twenty-Third Psalm featuring bass John Kim who helped translate and teach them the music during rehearsals then led the choir onstage.
Joy of Vox came to be part of Wintersong through Gryba and director BJ Harris's musical connection. Gryba and Harris have performed together with other musicians of the Battlefords, and all it took was an invitation to join in.
Joy of Vox, like the Gallery Singers, presented a variety of musical styles, from the Andrews Sisters Second World War hit Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree to the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's Ohio, written after the Kent State University shootings of 1970.
Harris had praise for the Dekker Centre, saying it was a "wonderful, wonderful" theatre.
"We'll come back anytime, folks," he said. "Just ask us!"
The show wound up with a joint performance by the Gallery Singers and Joy of Vox. The final song was a spiritual song from South Africa. During dress rehearsal earlier, Gallery Singer Dr. van der Merwe demonstrated to the choristers the steps and style in which it would be presented in its homeland.
The finale was met with a standing ovation from the audience.
The collaboration wasn't just about the evening performance. Sunday afternoon's joint rehearsal was also a highlight of the weekend for the singers and directors. With all three directors participating, the singers worked through their shared numbers, enjoyed the camaraderie of a common passion and, as an unexpected treat, enjoyed a tasty backstage supper together, organized by Gallery Singer Jean Kozlowski.
The directors, Kasper and Gryba, have been committed to building a strong choral program in the Battlefords for more than 11 years. As well co-conducting the Battlefords' adult chamber choir, the Gallery Singers, they also co-conduct the Battlefords Children's Choirs.
Kasper is a language and literacy consultant with the Living Sky School Division and holds a masters degree in Curriculum and Instruction.
Gryba teaches a private studio of voice and piano students and holds a masters degree in piano performance. She has also appeared as both a soloist and duo-pianist with the Saskatoon Sympathy Orchestra.
Born in Regina and raised in Moose Jaw, Harris moved to Saskatoon in 1989 to attend the University of Saskatchewan, where he earned degrees in music and education. He is a founding member of the a cappella group Streetnix, and one of only three members to perform with the group for its entire 11-year run.
A stay-at-home father of two, BJ spends his spare time teaching voice lessons, composing and arranging, producing music in his studio, and singing in a variety of ensembles. His debut solo album, I Wanna Be Like You, was released in 2011.
He has sung with the King Street Station Jazz Band in the Battlefords on several occasions, including this past New Year's Eve.
Footnote: Dianne Gryba, knowing that as a director her back is to the seats of the theatre much of the time, thoughtfully treated the audience to a spectacular pair of shoes!
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