Curtain closes on Island Singers ’ Holly Scott and Dorothy Anstice

Island Singers director Dorothy Anstice, left, and accompanist Holly Scott bid concertgoers adieu at their final concert at the Mindemoya Missionary Church last Monday night. The pair brought over 53 combined years of devotion to the Island Singers.

by Dave Schinbeckler

MINDEMOYA—A capacity crowd greeted the Island Singers as they trooped onstage for their spring concert, entitled “Celebrate and Sing!” last Monday evening at the Missionary Church in Mindemoya.

Actually, the ensemble stopped short of the stage, performing ‘Kyrie Eleison’ by Susan Thrift, whilst still scattered along the periphery of the hall. We are one community. We are all singers, they seemed to say, silently.

True enough. Bank tellers, dairy farmers, hockey players and hockey moms, secondary school students and teachers, mechanics and nurses, they’re all here. And making a joyful noise from a joyful place high atop a mountain of camaraderie and a common love of music.

Their program galloped from Bach to Broadway to Bethlehem, resting only briefly for fine solo performances from Jessica Jordison, Karen Doughty and the Theijsmeiers, Mr. and Ms. Then the spurs were dug in for a Gilbert and Sullivan “don’t spare the horses” finish. Good Lord, these folks were having fun.

At the reins of all this was director Dorothy Anstice and accomplice Holly Scott on piano. For the last time. Between the two of them, they have devoted over 53 years to this ensemble. But the time has come for the curtain to fall, and this was certainly a bittersweet evening.

Says Holly, “We were having a conversation awhile ago and one of us (and I won’t say who) said ‘you know, I’m thinking about packing it in.’ To which the other replied, ‘well, if you’re going, I’m going too’.”

Which makes perfect sense, really. After two people work as a team for a quarter of a century, they know without hesitation what the other is looking for. You reach the point where one can order from the menu for the other, and finish each other’s sentences. Do you really want to start over with a new partner? Probably not.

So understandably the atmosphere at the reception after the concert was somewhere between a celebration and a funeral. As I chatted up some of the choristers over cake and cookies, two things became clear: Dorothy and Holly will be sorely missed, and the ensemble will carry on. I wanted to hear both.

The Island Singers have advertised for a new director and pianist, “and had a nibble or two,” according to Lydia Burlein, who is spearheading the recruitment campaign. “We have qualified people within the choir, but at the same time, we don’t want to lose their voices. It’s a Catch 22.”

The search for a new director and pianist will probably be expanded beyond the Island if no one steps forward soon.

But these are clearly canoe-sized shoes to be filled. Directing an amateur ensemble anywhere is a finesse game. You have to bring out the best of your troupe without being overbearing and scaring them off. Dorothy has managed to find the sweet spot.

“Singing in this choir is not like riding a bicycle,” says choir member Ann-Marie Scott. “You don’t hop on after it sat in the shed for a couple of years and just pedal off. Dorothy makes you work. Constant improvement is expected.”

No less demanding is the job of pianist. A lot of practice goes into preparing for a concert such as this. Some pieces are relatively relaxed and straightforward. But when you tackle Gilbert and Sullivan, for example, the pianist is faced with a piano reduction condensed from a full orchestral score. There are a pile of black dots on the page, negotiated at breakneck speed. A full orchestra of a hundred players distilled into ten fingers. Think Iranian expresso.

The tradition of home-grown choral music goes back a long way. No one is really sure how or when the Manitoulin Glee Club was formed, but Dorothy decided to join in 1987 before the troupe took on ‘The Music Man’ by Meredith Willson. Joanne Smith and Marion Seabrook directed the production, which starred Karlene Scott and George Masurkevitch. Jan Luff was at the piano. I remember the show well, having taken on the role of first tenor in the barbershop quartet. It was a ton of work, but was well-received by an audience of 800 people over two nights.

Preparations for a Christmas concert followed in the fall, with Dorothy as their newly-minted director. “We had roughly 25 members at the time,” Dorothy recalls.

Over the next two years several musicians took on the job as pianist. In the winter of 1990 Holly joined the Glee Club as their regular pianist, and in the winter of the following year the ensemble changed its name to The Island Singers.

The Island Singers have been just that—performing everywhere a decent piano could be found. Along the way, they have supported many worthy causes. Their concert in Lively last week helped the United Church fund housing projects in Nicaragua. The proceeds from this evening’s performance will pay for waiting room chairs in the new Manitoulin Central Family Health team capital expansion project.

Members have come and gone, but there has always been a devoted core keeping The Island Singers going. They will be needed now, more than ever, as the ensemble strives once more to re-invent itself. But at its heart is their love of the music that will ensure success.