It Runs In Families – Winter 2015

It Runs In Families

We often talk about our TMC family in a figurative way, and to be sure, the Choir is a pretty close-knit community. The figurative TMC family extends not only to choristers and staff, but also to the extended circle of family members, alumni, subscribers, donors, and audience members who support our music.

An impressive number of members of our figurative choir-family share their TMC experience with members of their real-life families. At the moment, the TMC membership includes Andrew and Joel Slonetsky, father and son, respectively; sisters Lynne and Erin Smythe and Catherine and Julia Barber; and husband and wife Tim and Katherine Reibetanz.

Chorister Barry Clegg is the only member of his family currently in the TMC; however his entire family has been associated with the choir in one way or another. Barry is married to Leslie Cooper, who is an active member of the TMC Alumni; his daughter Alison sang in the TMC for a couple of years, and daughter Joni performed with the TMC as a member of the Toronto Children’s Chorus and sang with the TMYC for a year before moving away.

In fact, it’s possible that there wouldn’t be a Clegg-Cooper family if it were not for the TMC. Recounts Barry:

My wife Leslie and I became family because of the TMC! Twenty years ago, we were assigned to the same TMC Valentine’s Quartet. The Quartets were a fund-raising venture based on Debbie Fleming’s clever arrangements of romantic words and music (e.g. the “How-I-love-ya Chorus”). Leslie and I had been in the choir for years without knowing each other, but after we sang for a few Valentine’s Quartet clients, the Valentine magic turned itself on us.

Yet more TMC families can be found among the TMC alumni. Marjorie Wiens, a longtime TMC member took some time off from her TMC involvement when her daughter Jennifer Taverner was little. Marjorie says that she should have known that Jennifer would someday be involved: “I was pregnant with her at the time of a Beethoven’s Ninth performance at Massey Hall. I guess the vibrations from the orchestra and choir prompted her to kick her way through every performance. You might say she became a singer that week!” (Jennifer notes that she has heard this story a lot). Years later, in 2003, having been back in the TMC for a while, Marjorie found herself at rehearsal with Jennifer, who had just joined the Elora Festival Singers.

For her part, Jennifer remembers her mom attending rehearsals every Monday evening, and going to concerts wearing a grey gown. Her own most memorable TMC experience was the 2007 trip to New York when the TMC performed at Carnegie Hall, though she also has fond memories of summer performances in the Barn at the Elora Festival.

We know that a choir’s conductor can cast a long shadow. In the case of two TMC conductors, that legacy has extended over generations. Adrienne Eastwood, who sang with the TMC from 2002-2008 is the granddaughter of Frederick Silvester, who conducted the TMC from 1957-1960. Adrienne’s aunt, Dianne Grey, remembers attending Messiah performances as a small girl forced to wear a very uncomfortable dress. She also recalls TMC parties and choristers coming and going, teaching her piano, and acting as a large extended family.

Adrienne was aware of her family connection when she auditioned for the TMC in 2002. She recalls being aware of the family connection, and thinking that she would love to sing for the Choir, but fearing that she would not be up to the TMC’s standards. She auditioned anyway:

I thought to myself, “Well, I don’t have a lot to lose. What’s the worst thing that’ll happen?” So I did my audition with Noel, and by some miracle, I guess I did well enough at the audition and he knew a little bit about the choirs I’d sung with in the past and I guess he thought they were good choirs. I remember he said “We’ll give you a shot.”

It was only then, Adrienne recalls, that she mentioned that her grandfather had been the conductor for the TMC to Noel, who seemed to be delighted with the connection.

Family connections extend beyond singers and conductors: Michael Fricker, chairman of the Board of Directors, is the great-grandson of Herbert Fricker, the TMC’s conductor from 1917 to 1942. Michael’s family’s association with the TMC has persisted through three generations and the TMC has valued the support of his parents Austin and Lois as well as Michael’s leadership of the Board.

The conductor connection also links two of the newest additions to the TMC family. Andrew and Joel Slonetsky joined the TMC in September, and according to Andrew, Joel’s maternal great-great uncle is Sir Ernest MacMillan. When chorister Emma Willemsma, a co-worker of Joel’s encouraged him to audition, Joel convinced his dad, Andrew, to try out as well. Andrew had considered the idea of joining the TMC, but it took Joel’s prodding to get him to audition. “I loved the idea of working together with Joel in this endeavour,” says Andrew. So far, both father and son are finding that singing together is more than living up to their expectations. Joel practices with his dad when he visits Newmarket on the weekends: “it really helps to have someone to work/panic with!” he says. “It also means we’re seeing a lot more of each other than we have in quite a while (a good thing), it’s been a lot of fun doing this together.” Andrew agrees: “It is a delight having my son in the choir! It builds regular contact with each into our lives and at the same time do something we both love to do.”

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