Quoddy Voices singers returned this spring to the EAC stage, after beginning their season via Zoom sessions, as had been their mode since spring 2020. The choir’s ‘Coming Back’ concerts, held May 27 and 29, were a delight for audience members, with many musical flavors and moods in a compact, moving program.
“It was so joyous and exciting to be performing again in front of a wonderful and supportive EAC audience,” said Jenny Gillies, a soprano who also appeared during the show with trio Jenny & the Barbs and Oriana, a 7-piece vocal group. “The whole experience completely embodied the concert’s theme of hope, optimism, and new beginnings.”

Quoddy Voices, with accompanist Jane Lanctot, perform for appreciative patrons. All photos by L. Elwood.

“After two years of isolation and caution due to Covid, we are finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel,” said Steve Koenig, bass and Oriana member. Despite the challenges creating music online, Koenig was an active participant in the group’s Zoom sessions, even in 2021 while sailing up the coast from Florida to Maine, whenever possible. “In person singing with Quoddy Voices has been at the top of my list of things for which Zoom is not a reasonable substitute,” Koenig concluded. “It was great to be back together harmonizing with a wonderful group of people.”
“I couldn’t wait to be able to hear and blend with everyone again,” added Kayla Heckart, a soprano and virtual choir participant, who was thrilled to resume in person singing. “Both concerts went really well. The audience seemed to really enjoy the music.”

‘Oriana’, directed by Bill Johnson (left), perform “You Are the New Day.”

The repertoire included tunes both poignant and lively, in two-song pairings typical of Newell’s concert programs. “One Voice,” composed by Ruth Moody for The Wailin’ Jennys was a standout, crystalizing lyrics about singing with others for harmony-starved audience members. The closing piece, “Sing Gently,” a pandemic choral anthem, was written by Eric Whitacre and performed by his Virtual Choir 6 project, which involved 17,572 singers contributing from 129 countries. In spring 2021, chorus members, each on their own, recorded their parts of this song, which Newell mixed together for an online release. After struggling with isolation and technology to create their prior performance, singers were able to finally perform the tune in real time, as a choir. Many eyes were less than dry during the standing ovation that followed.

Quoddy Voices Director John Newell talks about his inspirations for writing “Lux Aeterna” in honor and memory of Joyce Weber, which he dedicated also to beloved community members lost since Weber’s passing.

In order to safely achieve their season, the choir used specialized singers’ masks, sewn to allow singers to open their mouths widely. “Singers’ masks allowed us to practice in person and have a concert,” noted Koenig. “Without them, it might have been too early and we’d have missed another season.”
The face coverings were not without their challenges, however. “The masks I found to be a little restricting,” noted Heckart. “But I was more than happy to accommodate them so that we could all be singing, again, live in person.”

Jenny & the Barbs took the stage as the penultimate section of the program.

“I think when you need to breathe hard in the mask it can be difficult to get enough oxygen.” chimed in Gillies. “Your voice does sound different to you, and there is a different quality or resonance. What is hardest is just the comfort. You can work around it a bit, once you’re aware of it. It’s better than not singing, but I’ll be really glad when we don’t need to use them!”
Koenig agreed: “I do miss seeing people’s smiles when they sing. Hopefully that will be the next step next fall getting back to normal.”
Director John Newell was proud of the singers’ reunion season “Everyone was so excited to be singing together again,” said Newell. “Even with masks on I thought that they sounded great, in terms of sound and blend. And our audiences were not shy about sharing their enthusiasm!”

Soloist Manuela Brice sang pieces by Handel and Schubert.

Quoddy Voices will resume rehearsals on September 12 at 7 pm. Formed in 2014, the group welcomes singers regardless of experience level; no auditions are required. More information may be found on the Quoddy Voices page, https://eastportartscenter.org/constituent-groups/quoddy-voices/, or by contacting Director John Newell at (207) 214-7302 or by email at jnewell384@gmail.com.

“Everyone was so excited to be singing together again,” said Newell. “Even with masks on I thought that they sounded great, in terms of sound and blend. And our audiences were not shy about sharing their enthusiasm!”