A Christmas gift of song in Hay River

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It’s been about 25 years since the united voices of a community choir have sung out in Hay River.

A Hay River Community Choir has been reorganized for two performances this Christmastime after an absence of about 25 years. The choir will be directed by Lynne Ashton, centre, and will include singers Barry Ashton, left, and Marj Whiting. Paul Bickford/NNSL photo
A Hay River Community Choir has been reorganized for two performances this Christmastime after an absence of about 25 years. The choir will be directed by Lynne Ashton, centre, and will include singers Barry Ashton, left, and Marj Whiting.
Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

But that is going to change this Christmastime.

A community choir has been organized – and has begun practising – to perform a cantata, which is the Christmas story told in song.

Lynne Ashton is the director of the community choir, as she was when it last performed for several years in a row a quarter-century ago.

“About 25 years ago, we were usually doing a cantata at Christmas and Easter,” she recalled. “That’s when I lived here full-time.”

However, Ashton noted that these days she and her husband, Barry Ashton, spend much of the year away from Hay River, especially since they have grandchildren in Saskatchewan and B.C.

“Now that Barry’s retired, we spend a good part of the year down there and we do winters in Arizona now, too,” she said. “So I haven’t really been in town enough that I have my finger on the pulse of the music scene and who sings and likes to sing.”

That hasn’t stopped people from encouraging her to do another cantata.

“There’s been a few people that keep pestering her: ‘When are you going to do another community choir?'” said Barry Ashton.

And this year things are working out so that the Ashtons will be in Hay River for much of the fall and at Christmastime because their children will be in town for the holidays and to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary on Dec. 28.

So Lynne Ashton decided to organize another community choir.

“It’s something I can do,” she said, adding, “It’s an opportunity to really do some good quality singing with other people that want to do that.”

The community choir will be performing ‘Down from His Glory’, a cantata by the late John W. Peterson, an American songwriter.

“It’s not Santa and reindeers and winter wonderlands, which are lovely. But that’s not what we’re doing,” explained Lynne Ashton. “We’re doing the Christmas story in song.”

‘Down from His Glory’ was also performed about 25 years ago by the choir at the Hay River Baptist Church, where Ashton was the choir director. She has a recording of the church performance on cassette tape.

So she transferred the performance to CDs and handed them out at the end of September, along with a written copy of ‘Down from His Glory’, to the 25 people interested in today’s community choir.

About 13 people have been showing up for Sunday afternoon practices, although Ashton said there will be more than that for the performance.

“We hope to have 20 at least,” said Barry Ashton, who will be one of the singers. “We need more men, that’s for sure.”

Lynne Ashton explained that ‘Down from His Glory’ will be performed to a professional accompaniment CD, which is a full orchestra.

“It’s like Karaoke for choirs,” joked Marj Whiting, one of the choir members.

Some songs from other cantatas will also be performed to the accompaniment of a pianist.

Ashton is also considering inviting the audience to sing some popular Christmas carols after the cantata is performed.

The community choir will perform on Dec. 14 and Dec. 15, beginning at 7:30 p.m. each evening at the Hay River Baptist Church.

Whiting is happy to see the return of the community choir.

“I’ve been one of the ones bugging Lynne for the last few years every time I see her in the grocery store,” she said.

Whiting is also among several singers in the new community choir who sang 25 years ago.

“It’s just something I haven’t had the opportunity to do in many, many years,” she said.

Whiting said performing in the choir is fun and exciting.

Barry Ashton also said it’s fun singing with other people, and hopefully others will enjoy listening to it.

“The focus is Christmas and on the reason we celebrate Christmas, the birth of the savior,” he noted.

Lynne Ashton said she won’t be involved in organizing a community choir beyond this year.

However, she would love to see someone else take it on in the future, noting, “That would be just great.”

1 COMMENT

  1. All the best with this Community Choir, as you enjoy the practices and the presentations!! Truly an amazing endeavour and a blessed time for the whole community.
    Consider “taping” for friends near and far.
    The Cooks

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