John Newell, founding director of Quoddy Voices, will retire from this role following the group’s concerts, “Here in Maine,” to be held May 19 at 7 pm and May 21 at 3 pm. Newell’s stewardship of the chorus—from its beginning as a new EAC constituent group in 2014—has brought a wealth of choral music to listeners and singers alike, through fall and spring seasons each year on a variety of themes, and encompassing music of all kinds, from the sacred to the downright silly. The “Here in Maine” program is no exception, ranging from prayerful Shaker tunes to rousing shanties, and including a nostalgic spin through Rogers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, remembered by Newell as a favorite learned during his youth.
John’s above-and-beyond efforts during the Covid-19 pandemic, when singing was deemed an activity particularly likely to spread the virus, included studying ‘virtual choir’ models, then steering group members through online music-making projects. The group’s return to ‘in person’ singing has been careful and gradual, beginning with a Zoom-based start last spring and with live “Coming Back” concerts in May 2022. The singers did a full ‘in person’ session in Fall 2022, celebrating music itself, and continued energetically this winter with the Maine-themed program. The 2023 spring season has marked the group’s graduation from a masking requirement, and the singers’ animated faces may once again be seen.
The robust spring 2023 group is the largest since pre-pandemic times, and singers are thrilled to share their latest efforts with the EAC community, and to do their best for John Newell, whose patient and cheerful mentorship has allowed each to grow as a musician.
“John is the complete musical package, and a fine human being to boot, which is rarer than one might think,” writes Gene Nichols, who will will succeed Newell as director of Quoddy Voices. “John’s musical sensibilities are exquisite. He doesn’t merely spin notes; he has a firm foundation. He has pressed forward, doing the necessary strokes a composer/performer/conductor/educator needs to do in order to stay afloat in the pool. What a privilege it has been to make music with him!”
Please find a group of appreciations and memories from choir members following the photo gallery below.
“John has the gift of identifying exactly where we need to improve as a choir and using humor and wit to encourage us in our efforts.”—Stephanie Higgins, alto
“John, thank you for teaching me how to pronounce foreign languages even though I didn’t know what I was singing; for introducing me to time signatures I didn’t know existed; and for having the patience to consistently take what appeared to be a train wreck just a few weeks before the concert and polish it up for the performance. If only the audience knew! Best wishes and you are always welcome to sit in the bass section.“—Steve Koenig, bass
“I have really appreciated all the hard work John has put into Quoddy Voices over the years and I have greatly looked forward to the practices as well as the concerts. In particular I appreciate the great efforts he made to keep us going via Zoom during the worst of the pandemic. I hope his legacy will remain for future performances.”—Ray Fluke, tenor
“Hi John, thanks for your patience and tolerance of a sometimes unruly group, and for helping us to sound good singing together! Thanks especially for the QV Zoom sessions, which helped us through some dark times. Best wishes!”—Sarah Dalton-Phillips, tenor
“Thank you to the most creative and joyful choral director that I have ever known.”—Madeline Murphy, alto
“Being in Quoddy Voices under your leadership, John, one can learn many songs and techniques as long as you ‘Watch the Conductor!’ May you enjoy many relaxing times with family!”—Rosalie Woodward, soprano
“John brought to Quoddy Voices both a generous, supportive spirit and a dedication to musical excellence. His sense of humor, enthusiasm and thoughtful direction helped to bring out the best in everyone individually and as an ensemble. Together, we’ve made a joyful noise!”—Polly Kipp, soprano
“Without my having yet met John Newell, he became a swing factor in my moving to Eastport. Other family members were already on board for relocating, but I was less ready to uproot, no matter the natural wonder of the place. But then, during a visit, I saw a poster for an upcoming Quoddy Voices concert and sensed this was no ordinary community chorus. Its repertoire was much like the one where I was singing in Boston—except that we didn’t yet have a piece in Chinese. Mandarin? (Which our conductor did speak.) I also appreciate the fact the Downeast ensemble is not auditioned and was told, at an art gallery, that they’d likely really welcome another male voice. (Whew!)
Flash ahead to actually living up here. At our first in person rehearsal post-Covid, I knew from the first two chords out of our mouths in warmup that this was home.
Quoddy Voices is, of course, John’s dream and labor of love. Like my previous directors, he’s meticulous yet patient, a composer and excellent keyboardist, a clean conductor, and someone with fine senses of humor and delight who also genuinely cares about his singers and colleagues.
How perfect! He will be missed, of course, and warmly remembered. Many thanks, John, for all you’ve given to us and the wider community.
I do hope you’ll be back often.”—Jnana Hodson, bass
“Thank you, John—for everything. You’ve given so much to all of us! Being a part of Quoddy Voices has been a special experience due to your amazing musicianship, but also because of the kindness, warmth, and respect you showed all of us. We were not always an easy group to lead, but you made it look effortless! Of course we know it wasn’t effortless, and are very grateful for all your incredible work and perseverance—even through Covid!!
Working with you has inspired me to work to try to be a better musician, and that has brought me endless joy. Your love of music and passion to share that with us has been a wonderful gift to Quoddy Voices, the Arts Center and the community. Thank you!!!!”—Jenny Gillies, soprano
“Thank you, John. I have thoroughly enjoyed working with you over the past number of years. We always could count on you for support, help, and patience, and your sense of humor kept us in good moods! I will certainly miss you, and would love to hear about your future adventures.”—Barbara Smith, alto
“Thank you, John for being the musical person that you are and for being a good friend. I’m so glad I had the experience of singing in your chorus, as it made for wonderful memories. Now, here’s to the future!“—Sarah Darulis, tenor
“John Newell! You are an extremely gifted conductor, not to mention a most brilliant composer. Working with you in Quoddy Voices in full choral, small ensemble, and solo settings has been fun, enriching and elevating.
You have had such a special way of bringing this group of musical misfits together and facilitating transformations short of small miracles at times, challenging yourself and as us a group to surpass what each individual can bring on their own.
It has been beautiful to watch individual members of the group grow in the course of the years and get more secure in their singing voice and vocal expressions under your guidance.
John, you went far and beyond to ensure that anybody who had the wish to explore singing with no background whatsoever could actually do that in a safe environment, by recording a multitude of practice files for each of the voices for each of the pieces, so people who cannot read music were able to prepare for the weekly practices, always welcoming questions and of course inviting other smart remarks, especially from the far sides of the back rows.
Music and singing in particular speaks to us as individuals as an expression of our soul and elevates the spirit to be channeled into a wonderful community experience. An experience that we definitely have reached in Quoddy Voices.”—Manuela Brice, soprano
A radio show spotlighting Quoddy Voices, including comments from many singers, originally broadcast in December 2018 by ‘Bass Lady’ Joan Lowden will be re-aired on Saturday, May 20 at 4 pm, on WSHD 93.3 FM in Eastport. The show may also be accessed here: www.basslady.com/radio.