The Early Years
The Oakville Choral Society (OCS) began in 1960 when a small group of people who loved to sing came together to share that joy and make music together. In those years we had various conductors and no fixed location. Rehearsals were held in members’ basements, church halls and eventually the Pine Room at Oakville arena. One of our earliest conductors was Sidney Bickham
In 1969 Gifford Mitchell was recruited from McGill University by Sheridan College in Oakville to head up the music department at Sheridan. Gifford was an organist, educator and choir director, a graduate of the University of Toronto. He became the Music Director of the choral society, whose name was changed to the Whiteoaks Choral Society. We became part of Sheridan College, listed as a continuing education course in the college’s catalogue. Gifford brought with him an impressive collection of musical scores for chorus. These became the foundation of the OCS library, which now numbers over 500 SATB scores, housed in the basement of a local business. Gifford led the society until 1978, giving concerts in the Oakville Civic Auditorium and elsewhere in the community.
After ‘Giff’ left, Donald Horsburgh briefly took over leadership. Under his baton the OCS performed with Canadian singer and actress Dinah Christie.
Whiteoaks Choral Society was incorporated as a registered charity in 1982. The name was changed back to the Oakville Choral Society in 1995. That remains our legal name, though generally we call ourselves ‘Oakville Choral’.
Bev Stainton, Music Director 1979 – 2009
In 1979, Bev Stainton assumed the role of Music Director and Conductor, which he held for thirty years. Bev, a pianist, organist, educator and conductor has held numerous positions in choral music in Canada, including President of the Canadian Amateur Musicians/Musiciens amateurs du Canada (CAMMAC) and member of the Canadian Music Adjudicators’ Association.
Under Bev’s direction, we expanded our repertoire – singing classical music, opera, Broadway tunes, cabaret and rock & roll. We joined the Opera Mississauga for a fully costumed performance of Aida and sang the national anthem at a Toronto Blue Jays game. We helped celebrate the 150th anniversary of St. Anne’s Anglican Church in Toronto singing beneath the amazing and only known religious artwork of the Group of Seven.
David Bowser, Music Director 2009 – present
David Bowser has been the Music Director and Conductor since 2009. David earned his Doctor of Musical Arts at the University of Toronto specializing in eighteenth-century string and vocal performance practices. He holds a Master of Music degree in composition from the University of Toronto and a Diplôme d’Etudes supérieures II (Master’s Degree) in conducting from the Conservatoire de Musique in Montreal. His vocal training with esteemed pedagogue Marie Daveluy inspired a life-long passion for the voice. He studied orchestral and operatic conducting with Leopold Hager at the Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst in Vienna and with Gianluigi Gelmetti at the Accademia Chigiana in Siena, Italy.
David has continued our tradition of community partnership. We have sung with the NYCO Symphony Orchestra. Our performances often soloists who are winners of the Toronto Mozart Competition.
Oakville Choral has been fortunate to have had several outstanding accompanists. One of our earliest accompanists was Edith Bearley, followed by Richard Fiegenbaum and Joyce Hongisto, Marie Harris and Janet King. In 2007 we were fortunate to have the internationally acclaimed musician Anne Marie Leonard join us. Anne Marie’s talents on the piano and organ are truly extraordinary.
Membership in the OCS was as few as a dozen people in the early days. At the time we were the only non-church choir in town and our numbers grew rapidly. We’ve had close to one hundred singers for certain performances. Generally, we number about fifty to sixty people these days. We continue to be a non-auditioned community choir. We welcome anyone over the age of eighteen who wants to share the joy of communal singing.
Our Music and Concerts
The OCS has a vast library and a varied repertoire. We usually perform a pair of concerts in December and another pair of concerts in the spring. Concerts are usually in our local community, although we have sung in venues in Toronto and the surrounding communities. The music is often, but not always, drawn from the classical repertoire. Audiences at our December concerts enjoy joining us for our sing-along carols.
The OCS has commissioned two choral works. In 2002 we performed The Beasts at the Manger, by William Whitla and William Westcott, which was commissioned by the OCS. For Canada’s 150th birthday, we commissioned our Music Director, David Bowser to compose a performance piece. The premiere of The Canadian Maple, by David Bowser was performed in the spring of 2017. This work was inspired by artwork and written submissions from local children on the theme: what Canada means to me.
The 2020-2021 season marks our 60th anniversary. Oakville Choral is strong – strong and healthy enough for another sixty years.