‘A dream in heaven’

Winnipeg Free Press - - PASSAGES - BEN WALD­MAN ben.wald­man@freep­ress.mb.ca Twit­ter: @ben­jwald­man

INNIPEG was trans­fixed when Pope John Paul II ar­rived in Septem­ber 1984, the first time a pon­tiff set foot on Cana­dian soil. Tens of thou­sands of Man­i­to­bans jammed the streets to watch him as he dis­em­barked from the jet, vis­ited a Ukrainian church and trav­elled through the city’s down­town in his mo­tor­cade.

Wher­ever the pope went, a beguiled flock of be­liev­ers, jour­nal­ists and cam­era crews fol­lowed, and Dave Wa­ters, a long­time CBC pro­ducer, was watch­ing it all un­fold on a se­ries of small screens, di­rect­ing the net­work’s cov­er­age of the visit with a sur­real sense of calm.

If ever there was a per­son who un­der­stood the mar­riage of spec­ta­cle, deep faith and the glow­ing al­lure of a colour tele­vi­sion screen, it was Wa­ters, who died in April at the age of 78.

When the pope vis­ited, Wa­ters had been di­rect­ing and pro­duc­ing the pub­lic broad­caster’s Hymn Sing, a Sun­day choral-per­for­mance pro­gram, for nearly two decades. A 1966 re­view of theshowin Va­ri­ety noted that with a low bud­get and prac­ti­cally no pub­lic­ity, the CBC had a hit.

The show at­tracted an au­di­ence of nearly three mil­lion view­ers each week.

“Hymn Sing isn’t much of a tele­vi­sion pro­duc­tion. It is much bet­ter suited to ra­dio,” the re­view con­cluded. “But who can ar­gue with rat­ings?”

Each week, a group of 16 young singers went into the CBC stu­dios on Portage Av­enue to record 10 hymns se­lected by the pro­duc­tion team, of­ten com­posed by mu­si­cal di­rec­tor Eric Wild or pi­anist Mitch Parks with lyrics by Wa­ters’ wife Deanna. Then, they’d record the video ver­sion.

For 28 of the show’s 30 sea­sons, Wa­ters stood in the stu­dio chore­ograph­ing every el­e­ment of pro­duc­tion, work­ing with staffers on ar­range­ments, sets, light­ing and cam­era work; when each episode reached the air, Wa­ters’ fin­ger­prints were ev­ery­where.

The show had been de­vised by CBC ex­ec­u­tives as a sea­sonal re­place­ment pro­gram, orig­i­nally slated for a 13-week run. Pro­duc­ers knew it had a shot at suc­cess, but it’s un­likely they un­der­stood their pro­gram would ri­val the Cana­dian broad­cast view­er­ship of the hal­lowed Na­tional Hockey League.

“The show is as much a na­tional in­sti­tu­tion as Hockey Night in Canada,” Faith To­day magazine de­clared in 1978. A lot of that had to do with Dave Wa­ters.

From the mo­ment he caught a glimpse of tele­vi­sion as a boy in Regina, Win­nipeg-born Wa­ters knew he wanted to cre­ate some­thing for peo­ple to see, hear and ex­pe­ri­ence. “He wanted to be in the world of per­for­mance and of tele­vi­sion,” says Deanna, his wife of 56 years.

Wa­ters took vo­cal lessons and be­came a tal­ented so­prano in church. He starred in school mu­si­cals such as Gil­bert and Sul­li­van’s The Pi­rates of Pen­zance and, as a teen, sang for Prime Min­is­ter John Diefen­baker. He and Deanna be­gan dat­ing af­ter they per­formed as hus­band and wife in a school play. Be­fore long, they both headed to Iowa State Uni­ver­sity to pur­sue de­grees in ra­dio, tele­vi­sion and film stud­ies.

WA trib­ute to those who left a mark in our prov­ince

Wa­ters be­came his fra­ter­nity’s song di­rec­tor, and “the king of the mu­sic depart­ment,” re­calls Barb Reisinger, a friend from col­lege, whose hus­band was Wa­ters’ frat brother.

Soon, though, Wa­ters de­cided to craft scenes in­stead of steal­ing them. He and Deanna pro­duced a ver­sion of Mered­ith Wil­son’s smash mu­si­cal The Mu­sic Man in 1963, a year af­ter the film ver­sion was nom­i­nated for six Academy Awards. Lo and be­hold, Wil­son was in the au­di­ence for a per­for­mance, and he later wrote to Dave and Deanna to ex­press his af­fec­tion for their pro­duc­tion.

Af­ter grad­u­a­tion, the cou­ple went to in­ter­views at ra­dio and tele­vi­sion sta­tions across the coun­try. Dave was of­fered an as­sis­tant pro­ducer job with CBC in Van­cou­ver, but the sta­tion wouldn’t hire a hus­band-wife pro­duc­tion team, so Deanna took a job man­ag­ing an Ea­ton’s store.

Next, Dave was of­fered a full-time pro­ducer job in Win­nipeg, and Deanna be­came the ed­i­tor of the Man­i­toba Busi­ness Jour­nal and a pro­ducer in her own right. When Hymn Sing’s orig­i­nal pro­ducer left, Wa­ters jumped.

“It was not just a job,” Deanna says. “It was a dream in heaven for him.”

Wa­ters poured him­self into the show, and even­tu­ally, he and his wife be­came ded­i­cated to Chris­tian­ity more than ever. He treated each singer with pro­fes­sion­al­ism and re­spect. When the show’s first host left, Wa­ters hired two women to share the duty; he en­sured all women were paid the same as men — a rar­ity then and now.

Cyn­thia Dut­ton, who per­formed on Hymn Sing for 20 years, was one of the hosts, and says Wa­ters re­as­sured her she was ca­pa­ble in the job. “In the end, he showed me I could do some­thing I never thought I could,” she says.

“He told me not to take my mu­si­cal gift for granted,” says John Nel­son, a Regina pas­tor who sang on the pro­gram from 1968 through 1974. “I never for­got that.”

Nel­son said Wa­ters never let on just how beau­ti­ful his own voice — a strong bari­tone — was, in­stead fo­cus­ing on how ev­ery­one else sounded. His ear for mu­sic was so finely tuned, says for­mer cho­rus mem­ber Lois Lyons, that through­out the show’s run, which ended in 1995, it al­ways sounded the same.

With Wa­ters’ health fail­ing last year, the show’s alumni trudged to­ward a re­union show, which is set to hap­pen in Win­nipeg next month.

In April, sev­eral singers vis­ited Wa­ters in hospi­tal; he had hopes of at­tend­ing the re­union. De­spite his ill­ness, he was able to of­fer sug­ges­tions on how to make the event as grand, faith­ful and true to the ideals of Hymn Sing as pos­si­ble.

Even at the end, Wa­ters was pro­duc­ing.


Long­time Hymn Sing pro­ducer and di­rec­tor Dave Wa­ters treated every singer with pro­fes­sion­al­ism and re­spect.


Dave Wa­ters (far right) dur­ing a CBC Hymn Sing pro­duc­tion on the east coast of Canada in 1994.


Dave Wa­ters (far right) with the Hymn Sing choir in 1979.


From left: Florence Faiers, as­sis­tant to the pro­ducer, Dave Wa­ters, pro­ducer/di­rec­tor and Ro­man Stoyko, as­sis­tant to the pro­ducer

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