Entertainment Local

A prelude to Christmas

By John Swartz

Trumpeter Gord Duncan opens and closes Saturday'sChristmas Prelude at the Orillia Opera House.
(Submitted photo)

Trumpeter Gord Duncan opens and closes Saturday'sChristmas Prelude at the Orillia Opera House. (Submitted photo)

The annual Christmas Prelude returns to the Orillia Opera House Saturday.

“We haven’t had a Christmas concert in the opera house for four or five years,” said Roy Menagh.

As conductor and director of the Orillia Wind Ensemble (OWE), he’s had to take the show on the road because the fees to use the opera house were too great.

That changed this year when Menagh and others from the Orillia Performing Arts Forum made a deputation to council asking for reduced rates so local groups could make use of the theatre.

The Orillia Silver Band was first to get back into the opera house in October for one of its concerts and now the traditional Christmas season starter is home.

“It will be a great show and I’m so proud of the community for getting back in the opera house,” Menagh said.

The OWE will have its counterpart, the Orillia Vocal Ensemble (OVE), to sing some Christmas favourites and to help out the audience on the singalong tunes.

“The OVE was formed initially to just do that first Christmas concert (without the Jubilee Chorale). I never had any thought to continue. The choir was so strong and we had such a good experience, the singers wanted to continue and it’s grown,” Menagh said.

That was four years ago. Menagh said the choir is recreational and typically does fundraisers or free concerts. It has no budget for soloists, so it relies on its own ranks to find soloists.

Meredith Warboys is one of those. She’ll be singing Once Upon A Christmas.

“Kenny (Rogers) and Dolly (Parton) did it years ago, back in the ’80s. It’s a goody. You’ll know it,” Warboys said.

Her name is one the community is still getting used to because she only started to perform at places like the Orillia Farmers’ Market the past two years.

“My kids are old enough now, I get to go out and play a bit. I had to wait a very long time to get my music going again,” she said.

It’s not like one day she decided to become a singer. It’s been part of her life for a long time.

“I was always playing music. I was part of a guitar club in high school, very involved in high school with music and different shows that we did. I did some shows in the community in Bracebridge and did some dinner theatre,” Warboys said.

She sang solo at last year’s Christmas Prelude and at Joint Effort this year with the band Honey Mead. Often, the band has been billed as Meredith Warboys and Honey Mead, but that is not the band name.

“It’s just Honey Mead. I’m not sure how that happens. I’ve said to them (the others in the band) I don’t know where they get that,” she said.

Menagh has also cast another OVE member for a solo role in the concert closing Messiah. Paul Blanche will be the voice part of a trio in the When Trumpets Call part of the traditional Christmas oratorio.

“This is a bit of a departure for him. It’s more classical. I like that,” Menagh said. “I like for him and others like Meredith to stretch themselves.”

With a title like When Trumpets Call, obviously a trumpet player is needed. Lots of people from within the OWE can play it, but it’s usually better to go with someone who has done it a few times publicly — nerves and such, you know.

”The trumpet is a very exposed instrument and is not used throughout, but when it is used, it’s very important,” Gord Duncan said. “Some trumpet players equate playing in the Messiah (to) 90 minutes of boredom, followed by 90 seconds of terror. When you play it enough, it’s not terror; it’s an absolute joy to play and a lot of fun.”

Duncan was the principal trumpet in the Oakville Symphony and, before that, he put himself through school playing the trumpet.

“I put myself through university playing in a dance band at the University of New Brunswick called the Thomists. Anne Murray used to sing with that band when she went to UNB. She graduated the year I went to UNB, so I didn’t actually play with her, but it was the same band,” he said.

The band took its name from St. Thomas University, part of UNB. It played dance band-era music of Miller, Goodman and others all over the Maritimes. It sounds like they fit in studies around gigs.

”It was enough to pay for my tuition and my other expenses,” Duncan said.

He also did a bit of horsing around with his instrument at Woodbine Racetrack.

“The Call to the Post, I’ve done it four or five times. The last time I did it was at the actual Queen’s Plate. That was quite a few years ago,” he said.

He should fit right in on Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride then. That tune ends with a trumpet mimicking a horse whinny.

“Oh, you know what? I have not been to a rehearsal with the band and I probably won’t do the horse call in the Sleigh Ride. I’m sure there’s somebody there who is ready, willing and able to do it,” Duncan said with a laugh.

The OWE will also be trotting out its new percussion equipment purchased with a Trillium grant.

“One of the nice things about that is the tympani and some of the percussion instruments are available for the audience to have a look at. At intermission, our plan is to have the audience come forward and have a look at them,” Menagh said.

Menagh is experimenting with the setup, too. The OWE will be in front of the choir on the theatre floor, while the OVE will be scattered on stage with the projection risers the Cellar Singers use for their concerts. It should help the balance of sound and Menagh thinks the sight will be impressive enough to get Santa Claus out to the 7:30 p.m. concert.

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