Choral pas­sion en­dures

Choir marks mile­stone with per­for­mances

Central Otago Mirror - - NEWS - By MARY-JO TO­HILL

Cen­tral Otago Re­gional Choir con­duc­tor John Buchanan strides out in front of his singers, warmly wel­com­ing the au­di­ence and thank­ing them for shar­ing in the group’s 10th an­niver­sary per­for­mance at Alexan­dra’s St John the Bap­tist Church.

As he stresses, Buchanan’s baby has been raised by a vil­lage, in this case, a strong core of out­stand­ing mu­si­cians and singers who have nur­tured it along.

Th­ese in­clude co-con­duc­tor Heather Macdon­ald, pi­anist Sharon McLen­nan and or­gan­ist Kemp English, who were all in­volved in three an­niver­sary con­certs, at Wanaka, Queen­stown and Alexan­dra.

The au­di­ence hears how it all be­gan, when for­mer Dunedin-ite Buchanan started or­gan­is­ing con­certs 11 years ago, in­clud­ing a suc­cess­ful per­for­mance of Han­del’s Mes­siah at the end of 2003.

In a later in­ter­view with the Mir­ror he said: ‘‘Ev­ery­one has their pas­sion and choral mu­sic is mine.’’

En­cour­aged by friends and col­leagues to es­tab­lish a choir on a more per­ma­nent ba­sis, he de­cided to put out a re­gion-wide search for peo­ple who could sing and be knocked into a half-de­cent choir.

‘‘We don’t have a choral tra­di­tion in Cen­tral Otago, so we were in a fron­tier-land as far as ex­pos­ing singers and peo­ple to new works, so the choir’s done re­ally well to achieve that.’’

At the con­cert, Buchanan is in fine voice, and so is the Cromwell­based mixed com­mu­nity choir, which de­liv­ered a var­ied reper­toire rang­ing from English pop singer Sting’s Fields of Gold to his coun­try­man’s Ben­jamin Brit­ten’s clas­si­cal choral piece A Cer­e­mony of Car­ols, fin­ish­ing with New Zealand’s own Ka Wa­iata.

But six months ago Buchanan’s vo­cals and health weren’t so sweet, when a flu virus left him with­out the abil­ity ‘‘to sing, yell and shout like I usu­ally do’’ when con­duct­ing choirs.

The Alexan­dra-based con­duc­tor, 68, who along with Dun­stan High School’s head of arts Bron­wyn Barnes, helped steer the school choir Dun­stanza to in­ter­na­tional suc­cess at a pres­ti­gious choral fes­ti­val at Mel­bourne in June this year, be­came ill in the two weeks lead­ing up to the group’s de­par­ture.

‘‘I re­ally was too sick to go. . . but I did.’’

The full mixed-voice choir won the sec­ondary schools com­pe­ti­tion while the se­nior girls were sec­ond in the same com­pe­ti­tion, go­ing on to win the open grade World Mu­sic com­pe­ti­tion, with Dun­stanza sec­ond in the a capella sec­tion.

Ill as he was, it was a ca­reer high­light for Buchanan, who pri­mar­ily looks after Dun­stan High’s in­ter­na­tional stu­dents and IT needs, as well as con­duct­ing the choir.

‘‘The au­di­ence wouldn’t let us off the stage and the lit­tle year 9 girls who even­tu­ally came off said to me, ‘Did we do well then?’ I said, ‘Yes I think you did’.’’

Tu­mul­tuous clap­ping fol­lowed, with the kids prac­ti­cally mobbed on their way out and peo­ple call­ing to them as they came out on the street.

‘‘It was quite surreal. I mean, we come from Alexan­dra, Cen­tral Otago . . . things like this don’t hap­pen to or­di­nary kids. They don’t hap­pen to Bron­wyn and I!’’

He is re­minded of that time and ‘‘their lovely fresh sound’’ with a limited-edi­tion CD the choir recorded in the school hall and which is due for re­lease this week.

‘‘We sing well, and bet­ter than we should for such a lit­tle school.’’

At Sun­day’s re­gional choir per­for­mance, he was bear­ing the lin­ger­ing ef­fects of his de­bil­i­tat­ing virus, sport­ing a shaved head and a big patch from a tem­po­ral ar­te­rial blood test taken last week, just to con­firm he is fi­nally get­ting bet­ter.

‘‘I’m feel­ing fine and I think the blood tests are show­ing that my body is heal­ing it­self.’’

It bet­ter be, be­cause he has another full-on six months with both his choirs, with the re­gional group start­ing to re­hearse for Anzac con­certs in March next year and Dun­stanza tak­ing on a four-day tour in June, lead­ing up to the premier na­tional sec­ondary choral com­pe­ti­tion, The Big Sing.

‘‘Mr B’’, as his stu­dents call him, rel­ishes the chal­lenge.

‘‘I’m the lucky one who gets to stand in front.’’ ◗ For more in­for­ma­tion about the Cen­tral Otago Re­gional Choir, con­tact Chris Al­lan 03 448 7314

Pho­tos: MARY-JO TO­HILL

His baby: Con­duc­tor John Buchanan with the choral group he founded, the Cen­tral Otago Re­gional Choir, per­form­ing at its 10th an­niver­sary con­cert, at Alexan­dra in De­cem­ber. The choir also per­formed in Queen­stown and Wanaka as part of its birth­day cel­e­bra­tion.

A choir of an­gels: The Cen­tral Otago Re­gional Choir cel­e­brated its 10th an­niver­sary on the week­end with three per­for­mances, this one in Alexan­dra, at the St John the Bap­tist church.

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