Elora restores classical content

Published September 1, 2001

Members of Leahy perform at the Gambrel Barn in Elora as part of the 22nd annual Elora Festival.

THE ELORA FESTIVAL – a major Ontario summer music program with significant Anglican involvement – has decided to stick with serious choral and classical music after a foray into popular music left it reeling financially.

From July 13-29, the festival drew 6,500 people to the pretty mill town of Elora, about 50 kilometres north of Kitchener-Waterloo, for such non-fluffy offerings as Pergolesi’s choral work, Stabat Mater; Vivaldi’s Gloria and Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt.

It wasn’t completely heavy going – one day featured the electric Celtic music and step dancing of Leahy, nine brothers and sisters from the musical Leahy family of Lakefield, in eastern Ontario. The festival closed with a humorous program called Hymn Tasting Returns, featuring John Fraser, Master of Massey College at the University of Toronto, dispensing witty commentary on great Victorian hymns.

That the festival would survive to see its 22nd season wasn’t a sure thing last year, when it rang up a $100,000 deficit on a $500,000 budget, said JoAnn Martin, general manager. Programming such pop-music acts as Kim Stockwood, Jesse Cook and Rita MacNeil didn’t go over well with audiences who come to hear one of the few professional choirs in the business, the Elora Festival Singers, whose home base is the Anglican church of St. John’s.

Festival artistic director Noel Edison conducts the singers, in addition to his other posts as conductor of the 180-voice Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, director of choral studies at Wilfrid Laurier University and choirmaster at St. John’s. Last summer, he received the Order of Niagara, an honor from the Anglican diocese of Niagara, for his choral work

The deficit “almost closed us down,” until an anonymous donation of common stock arrived last winter. The shares were sold for $115,000 and, rejuvenated by the unexpected windfall, Mr. Edison decided to shift gears. “I think in some ways we lost our original focus, and it started to hurt us. We lost sight of what made us successful in the first place.”

Leahy’s high-voltage show – think Ashley MacIsaac meets the Rankin Family times two – fit well with the classical offerings. On opening weekend, Leahy performed in the festival’s largest venue, the Gambrel Barn, a huge structure used to store salt and sand in the winter transformed into an airy performance space.

Next summer, said Ms. Martin, the festival will stick to similar programming.


  • Solange DeSantis

    Solange De Santis was a reporter for the Anglican Journal from 2000 to 2008.

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