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Village Voices Christmas Concert:
 from Classical to Contemporary

article and photos by Grant Weaver,

On Saturday, December 1, 2007 at 7:30 p.m., the Village Voices present their Christmas Concert at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church at 143 Main Street North, Markham.

            The program has something for everyone.  The choir will perform, in Latin and with orchestral accompaniment, the Magnificat of Johann Sebastian Bach.  This segment will highlight guest soloists, Elicia Clements soprano, Joy Klopp mezzo soprano, Arunas Radtka tenor and Michael Thomas baritone.

The evening will also feature a wide range of Christmas music — classical, traditional and contemporary.

Not only is the choir preparing for its own concert on December 1, Village Voices will also be the guest choir at the Christmas concert of the Markham Concert Band the following afternoon (Dec. 2), at 3.p.m., at Markham Theatre For Performing Arts.

            Last Wednesday (Nov. 21) the Village Voices had a double treat in store for the residents of Sunrise Senior Living in Unionville.  The choir performed a mini-concert in the lobby and many residents came down to enjoy the blend of familiar and newer songs and to participate in a sing along.  Conductor Joan Andrews, with energy and humour, and with the accompaniment of pianist Gerald Loo, put her singers through a program of spine tingling harmonisations and touching solos that was much appreciated by the audience.

The choir then remained at the centre to rehearse and invited Sunrise residents to stay for that too.

            Joan Andrews has been the conductor of Village Voices since 1999.  Joan grew up in Ottawa and graduated from the University of Western Ontario as a specialist in Music Education.  She then began a thirty-one year career as a vocal and instrumental music teacher with the Scarborough Board of Education and ultimately became head of the music department at Norman Bethune Collegiate Institute.

            For over thirty years she has been a member of the Amadeus Choir of Greater Toronto in which she sings soprano and is assistant conductor.  Also an accomplished flutist, she is a member of The Encore Symphonic Concert Band which is made up mainly of retired professional musicians like herself.     

        Now counting sixty members, Village Voices began in 1989.  Three of its founders still sing with the choir---Eleanor Stephens, Karen Ryan and Helen Pawluk.

Joan Andrews

            I asked Helen Pawluk how the group first formed.

            “There was a group of us that loved to sing,” she said. “We had sung together for a number of years and we decided to form the Village Voices.”

            At first they practised at the piano in the basements of a couple of different members.

            “Then we moved on to a school, and then we rented Unionville Presbyterian Church to rehearse in,” Helen explained.

            There were approximately 30 members when the choir formed, with Eleanor Malcolmson as their first director.  One of their early appearances was to sing at the opening of the Markham-Stouffville Hospital. They also performed at a number of seniors homes and churches. 

            “It has gradually evolved over the years into this large choir with a broader range of music,” she said.

            The choir began with a core group from the Unionville area but, as it became better known, has attracted members from the wider York Region and from the north end of Toronto and Scarborough.

            I asked Eleanor Clayton, president of the choir’s executive committee, about the challenges of running a large community choir.  Meeting expenses is always one of them.  Rental of their rehearsal space, the printing of programs and the honorariums paid to guest soloists are among the big items.  Fundraising is therefore an ongoing necessity.

           The choir recently held a fashion show to raise money to defray the costs of a chartered bus to London, Ontario where they performed with the Welsh Choir.  This was part of an exchange that saw the London-based choir travel to Markham to sing jointly with the Village Voices.

Gerald Loo

             As events coordinator Pat Florio explained, Village Voices’ mandate is to serve the community.  Among their yearly events is a concert at Participation House, a home for challenged adults, located next to the Markham-Stouffville Hospital.

            But the biggest events of the choir’s calendar are the Christmas and Spring Concerts.  Next year’s Spring concert will be quite special.  They will perform two concerts jointly with the Richmond Hill United Church choir, one on May 4, 2008 in Richmond Hill and another on May 10 at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Markham.

            The choir is always open to new members.  As conductor Joan Andrews explained, you do not need to audition if you would like to participate but the ability to read music, or to learn to do so, can be a big help.

            The Village Voices have reached a very high level of performance.  This is due to three key elements that have come together so successfully: talented singers, the willingness to work hard and continually improve, and the direction of a gifted and dedicated conductor.

FIRST SOPRANOS: Back row: Collette Kearns, Lynne Buckler,
Jean Van den Brink, Linda Winston, Karen Marshall, Marina Mooney 
Front row: Beatriz Valli, Heather Haslam, Josephine Arbeledo, Karen Ryan


SECOND SOPRANOS: Back row: Evelyn Lee, Lesley Malloy, Lorraine Khouri,
Isobel Emmerson, Irina Kapran, Cindy Mak, Heather Maynard, Margaret Black  
Front row: Barbara Cooper, Eleanor Clayton, Eileen Turner, Carol-Anne Bennie
FIRST ALTOS: Back row: Phyllis Doherty, Laura Hope, Renee Jensen, Judy Kee.
Front row: Eunice Podolski, Chris Chang, Sally White, Pam Wightman
SECOND ALTOS:  Back row: Glenna Berger, Jean Port, Marg Clarke, Sheila Fowler, Pat Geiger.
Front row: Helen Pawluk, Ann Orr, Catherine Patterson, Tiina Derry
TENORS: Back row: David Vant Erve, right Ian Newton  
Front: Chris Norman right, Sid Mines
BASSES:  Back row: Cliff Hope and Rod Ross  
Front: David Roe and Doug Turner

            Tickets for their December 1 concert are $15 (children 12 and under free) and can be purchased in advance by calling 905-294-8687 or at the door, at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, 143 Main Street North, Markham.  This venue is completely wheelchair accessible.

            For complete show details click here.

            To learn more about Village Voices visit


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