At the Christmas concert, The Winter's Heart, of the Coast Phoenix Singers on Dec. 15, choir director Michael Grice made a bold announcement - this would be their last concert. Fans were not worried, however, as they knew that the phoenix would rise again soon.
This month Gibsons-based Coast Phoenix Singers is amalgamating with Sechelt's Suncoast Singers to form a new community choir that has chosen the name Suncoast Phoenix.
The last concert was a special occasion, when Kelly Smit, as the piano collaborator, played the new grand piano in its first public performance. The purchase of the piano for Gibsons United Church was a legacy from the late Betty Paterson, a member of the Coast Phoenix singers as well as the church choir.
In the audience sat Joy McLeod, conductor of the Suncoast Singers. She has resigned her role as leader of that group, but will continue to lead the Pender Harbour Choir and to teach piano.
McLeod initiated the Suncoast Singers when she first arrived on the Coast in 2006 and its numbers have varied from 24 to 44 over the years.
"We've had some wonderful concerts," McLeod said, adding that she's leaving only because other musical projects are calling to her. "I want to work on projects that don't fall within the confines of a community choir - productions of master works or maybe Gilbert and Sullivan."
Besides, she added, it's good to have change as it helps the choir grow in knowledge. During the Christmas concert, Grice acknowledged the contribution to the Coast Phoenix choir of its last director, Bill Bourns, whose love of English cathedral music expanded to include sacred and secular pieces. Bourns passed away last year.
"We're really enjoying singing with our new musical director, Michael Grice," said chorister Sue Milne. "It's great to have Bill Bourns' musical legacy continue in the hands of another such experienced choral director."
Grice is a busy guy. He scarcely had a chance to enjoy retirement from teaching in Vancouver's school district when he was offered a job he couldn't refuse, as director of education for Vancouver Opera. Since he and his wife had already bought a home on the Sunshine Coast, that meant five more years of commuting until his second retirement. He also directs Coastal Sound Music Academy's adult choir in Port Coquitlam on Tuesday evenings, as he has done since 1996. When Bourns passed away, Grice was approached to lead Coast Phoenix.
"It was an age group and an experience level that I was used to," Grice said.
He agreed happily.
Both choirs seem enthusiastic about a merger, and they will be searching for an appropriate venue for the bigger choir.
"It opens up repertoire choices enormously," Grice said. "We can perform bigger, more exciting, challenging music."
Both these choirs currently rehearse Thursday evenings, so no adjustments were necessary and the new group has been offered rehearsal space at Living Faith Lutheran Church in Davis Bay.
The new Suncoast Phoenix is planning an open rehearsal Thursday, Jan. 24, at the church when interested Coast singers can visit to see if they might like to become members. The choir rehearses from 7 to 9:15 p.m. For more detailed information, call Grice at 1-604-788-0744.
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