Choral passion endures
Choir marks milestone with performances
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
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.