New director Regan MacNay shaping Georgian Bay Concert Choir sound

Regan MacNay, the Georgian Bay Concert Choir's new director this season, will lead the 70-voice choir and several soloists in a Good Friday performance of the Mozart Requiem April 6, 2012 at 7:30 p.m. at Georgian Shores United Church. BILL HENRY/The Sun Times/QMI Agency

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Regan MacNay had her sights on a percussion career with a major orchestra. Her dedication to practising many hours every day at Western University led to serious tendonitis. It numbed her arms and ended any dreams of drumming.
Doctors doubted MacNay would regain full use of her arms.
So the Wiarton musician, singer and now educator and music director with both the Georgian Bay Concert Choir and the Georgian Bay Children’s Choir was forced to change plans.
“It was earth shattering at the time,” MacNay said recently. “Now I realize it was probably a good thing because it forced me to broaden my knowledge and my learning.”
A singer all her life, starting in Grade 7 with the acclaimed Children’s Festival Chorus in Port Elgin, MacNay redirected her musical focus toward composition, conducting and music history, along with English literature and an eventual Masters degree in that discipline.
She taught music and English and led a 60-voice choir at a Belleville private school for three years, then taught at Peterborough before returning home to Wiarton. This is her second year as a music and English occasional teacher with the Bluewater board and MacNay’s first year directing both choirs.
On Good Friday, April 6, at Georgian Shores United Church, MacNay will lead the 70-voice Georgian Bay Concert Choir and soloists through the entire Mozart Requiem Mass in D Minor and two other shorter works for an Easter themed concert.
“It’s a big sing,” MacNay said. “It’s not a light, fluffy piece. Mozart was writing this on his death bed and it has some of that feeling. There’s that element of gravity to it.”
And with its intricate score, voiced to challenge singers at the high end of each section’s range, Mozart’s Requiem meets the concert choir’s mandate; offering local audiences big, challenging, important choral works.
Owen Sound-raised soprano Claire Morley, mezzo Vicki St. Pierre, tenor Adam Bishop and baritone Andrew Tees are soloists for the performance, with organist Ian Sadler.
MacNay was raised on the edge of Wiarton in a house filled with music. Her mother Arlene is a piano teacher with a long association with the Wiarton Community Choir. Her father Ken played piano, sang and was a pipe major. Brother Sterling is a music therapist and a local performer while brother
Ramsey, a Hamilton-area pediatrician, is a proficient guitarist.
Regan MacNay applied for the GBCC director’s position when it was advertised over a year ago, and took over in September from Henriette Blom.
She was just settling into the role, ready to direct Vivaldi’s Gloria in December, when Linda Hawkins asked MacNay to also take over direction of the Georgian Bay Children’s Choir for the rest of this season.
Realizing her respect for Hawkins, a mentor and former music teacher of hers, and recalling how important her own years were as a young chorister, MacNay accepted.
“I love working with choirs,” she said. “I know looking back how important that experience was for me and I wanted to kind of help kids in this area the same way.”
Through high school at West Hill, MacNay pursued instrumental music with Fred Parsons, and vocal music with David Tupper, a former director of the concert choir.
Despite her years singing in choral groups, until tendonitis curtailed her percussion plans, MacNay had never considered leading a choirs.
“I’d always been a singer, I never thought of conducting, then I took a course and I just thought wow, this is phenomenal to shape the sound and to have this response,” she said. “You’re still playing an instrument, but the instrument is the voice and it’s very immediate. Whatever I do with my arms and my hands, they’re going to respond. It’s an incredible feeling. It’s exciting. You get a charge out of it.”
“I love vocal music. I’m passionate about it. I think choirs are so important and it doesn’t mater what age you are,” she said.
“The thing I love abut the voice is that everybody has one. It’s the most elemental part about us. We use it to communicate. When you hear a person’s voice you have a reaction to it. The voice is such an important thing, and when you stand together and sing there’s something that’s just so powerful about it because there are no barriers. There’s nothing between you and the audience.”
MacNay spends hours each week planning rehearsals in detail, approaching the most difficult music first. She said her role is to inspire confidence and bring the best from the musicians and the choir as a whole.
“it’s not about me. It’s about producing the music and being confident about it. I just steer. They’re reading me for the sound we’re looking to produce, but really, it’s them.”
Getting to that stage also means working on her own confidence, and overcoming “nightmares” as a performance approaches, which include knocking knees and a sick feeling before taking the baton.
“Inside, I’m a wreck,” she said. “But I get to the podium and I turn to the choir and I’m fine. I’m totally focused.”
Recruitment was among her goals when she took over the position, with plans of helping develop the choir long term and a clear idea of the kind of choir she wanted to direct.
“The choir I’m trying to build is a choir that is 100% committed to excellence in singing. That’s what I want,” MacNay said. “I’m looking for a certain type of atmosphere in my choir, I want very positive committed people who are going to stick with it,”
The choir has grown since from about 25 members to now almost 70, MacNay said.
“They are phenomenal. It’s exciting.”
The Georgian Bay Concert Choir will perform the Mozart Requiem next Friday, April 6 at 7:30 p.m. at Georgian Shores United Church in Owen Sound. Admission is $20 for adults and free for children.


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