HISTORY OF THE NEWCOMBE SINGERS
The Newcombe Singers have a long and proud history of community service through song in Victoria. In 1957, members of three British Columbia Civil Service unions formed an informal choir to provide musical entertainment for colleagues and the general public during the Christmas season. We performed in the Rotunda of the B.C. Legislature, led by our first conductor, Bob Kroeger. For the next three years, musical activities grew and the group formalized into the “Newcombe Glee Club”, named for the auditorium we performed in. In the early 1970s, under music director Dennis Sheppard, a special program was put together commemorating every decade of the Province’s history and performed locally as well as up and down Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast. In 1975 Lorna Griffiths became the choir’s new director. Our permanent name was chosen, and we have since been known as the NEWCOMBE SINGERS.
In the early 1980s under Bill Brown as choir director, the Newcombe Singers developed a repertoire and focus that continues today. “From Bach to the Beatles” remains our musical by-line, exercised through regular performances in seniors’ centres, lodges, hospitals and community venues in the capital region. The choir continued to provide the musical background for official functions at the B.C. Parliament Buildings, from opening ceremonies of the Legislature, to Remembrance Day services and Christmas caroling during advent season.
Under directors Bill Brown, Alan Jacob (1989), Alan Whitmore (1990) and Simon Leung (1991 – 2006), the Newcombe Singers continued to evolve, adding Canadian and North American folk music, and under Simon, a distinctly classical focus to the repertoire. Over this period, our choir engaged in a variety of performance challenges in Canada and abroad. Highlights include:
1985: participation in the Powell River Choral Festival, appearances in a TV telethon and a concert trip to Vancouver;
1990: a joint concert with the Kapfenberg Choir from Austria;
1992: hosting the Vancouver Chinese Choir at a joint concert with Chinese repertoire;
1993: the premiere performance of Joan Gosselin’s “Elizabethan Love Poems” on March 13 in Victoria, with the composer present at “The Met”. Joan Gosselin accepted our commission to compose a song cycle for us on the occasion of our 25th anniversary;
1993: a concert trip to Hong Kong with performances at St. John’s Cathedral on Hong Kong Island, Li Po Chun United World College in Kowloon and North Point Alliance Church in Hong Kong;
1995/96: another concert tour to Germany and Austria, including performances in an international choir and music festival in Neuhuetten, and in Vienna, Saltzberg and Andorf with local choirs;
1999: participation as a core choir at the B.C. Choral Federation “Chorfest” in Powell River (under Robert Cooper), and again in “Chorfest 2000” in Vancouver under Iwan Edwards, with a final concert at the Orpheum;
2001: with the Victoria Civic Orchestra under George Corwin, we performed Brahms’ Liebeslieder Waltzes.
Over the past decade, the Newcombe Singers engaged in a number of joint choral performances with other Victoria choirs and with several groups from elsewhere in BC and abroad. A tradition was started in September of 2002 when we joined the St. Mary the Virgin Anglican Church and Oak Bay United Church choirs for a special concert on the occasion of Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee, “Last Night of the Proms“. Our participation in the “Last Night of the Proms” became an annual event.
Our 2002 Christmas concert was also a joint event with other local choirs, and in 2003, we performed with a Richmond BC group there and in Victoria. In 2004 and 2005, we were invited to join a Korean chorus and orchestra for their spring concerts and in the same period, we hosted choirs from Austria, sang with the Victoria Civic Orchestra in Victoria and Duncan, visited Princeton, BC for performances, and partnered with Island Singers for a seasonal concert in Gordon Head. The following year we had the opportunity to host Chor Leoni for a Remembrance Day performance, visited Gabriola Island for their Music Festival, and enjoyed another joint concert with a Vienna choir.
Sue Doman conducted the Newcombe Singers for the 2006 – 2008 seasons, during which we continued our “Last Night of the Proms” participation with St. Mary’s Choir, the Monterey Centre Choir and Bel Canto Singers. We welcomed Chor Leoni back to Victoria for a Remembrance Day Concert; performed at the B.C. Legislature, and engaged in a variety of Christmas performances including the ‘Oak Bay Sea of Lights’ in conjunction with Oak Bay’s Centennial Celebrations. Vocal training workshops and the hosting of an Austrian choir added to our extra-curricular activities.
Our 40th Anniversary Concert, June 3, 2007, showcased 4 decades of singing together as a mixed choral group in Victoria. Several former conductors, accompanists and singers were in attendance and joined the current choir members in the singing of “Jacob’s Ladder”. Memorabilia gathered during those 40 years of song gave the audience a glimpse into our past; our enthusiastic, polished performance gave them a glimpse into our future. Also in that year, we presented an award to the school choir with the best performance at the Greater Victoria Performing Arts Festival. The winners – St. Patrick’s Primary School Choir – were our featured guests in our spring concert.
Simon Capet took over as conductor for the 2008 season, before leaving Victoria for new career opportunities. Our talented piano accompanist, Kim Cousineau, joined us that season to provide the Newcombe Singers with excellent support. During 2008, we partnered with the B.C. Choral Federation to provide vocal workshops with outstanding choral conductors/educators. These events were open to the community, offering learning opportunities for Newcombe members and for others interested in choral music.
Newcombe Singers welcomed Peter Dent as our conductor in 2009, and Peter continues to provide us with challenges and opportunities for vocal learning and performance. For example, Newcombe Singers have joined with the Hampton Concert Orchestra – another Victoria group formed in 1967 as a Canadian Centenary initiative – in joint concerts. A sample of this work, from our 2009 performance of Buxtehude’s “Das Neugeborne Kindelein”, can be accessed on our website.
The Newcombe Singers is a member choir of the B.C.Choral Federation.