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History

The Saskatoon Chamber Singers was founded in 1977 by a group of former Greystone Singers (University of Saskatchewan) who wanted to continue singing in a quality choral ensemble. They invited Robert Solem, director of choral activities at the University of Saskatchewan and director of the Greystone Singers since 1962, to be the choir’s musical director. The choir’s first concert, on December 14, 1977, was presented with the Saskatoon Chamber Orchestra – they were billed as the Saskatoon Chamber Orchestra and Choir – and included Vaughan Williams’ “Flos Campi,” Vivaldi’s “Gloria,” and Scarlatti’s “Su le sponde del Tebro.” The official launch, however, came on April 3, 1978, at Knox United Church. Typical of much of the repertoire ever since, the varied program included two recent Canadian works, including Ruth Watson’s Missa Brevis. The Chamber Singers quickly developed a reputation in Saskatoon, and received national exposure. During the 1978-79 season, they provided recorded program music for the Gateway Players’ production of The Lark. In 1979, the choir performed Brahms’ Neue Liebeslieder Walzer in a concert during the Learned Societies Conference that was broadcast on the national CBC network, the first of several concerts to be broadcast. The following season they were the core group for the chorus of the Saskatoon Opera Association’s production of Carmen. They also performed a number of concerts outside of Saskatoon.

The choir’s repertoire has been rich in variety since its establishment. A sample of program titles: Works by Willan, Bach, Debussy, Ravel and Earl George (1980); Motets, Madrigals, and Part-Songs, 1531-1981 (1981); Madrigals, Motets and Songs by American, British, Canadian, French, German, and Norwegian Composers (1982); Choral Perspective: A Program of Choral Insights 1500-1942 (1982); The Music of the Bards and a Multicultural Hit Parade (1986); Best of the West (1987); Music of Our People (1988); A Celebration of Canadian Choral Music (1999); Contrasts: From Kodaly to King's Singers (2000); Poulenc Plus: The French Connection (2004); and Voices United: The Hymn in Choral Music (2006). In 2004, the choir presented the Saskatchewan premiere of an American composition, “The Holocaust Cantata: Songs from the Camps,” which they repeated at a special concert in 2005 at Congregation Agudas Israel.

Canadian music has always been a very important component of the choir’s programming. In 1980, a new work was commissioned by Saskatoon composer Monte Floyd; David Kaplan’s compositions have often been featured as well. More recently, Toronto composer Eleanor Daley has become a favourite of the choir. A concert in 2006, “With Glowing Hearts,” featured music by the Canadian composers Imant Raminsh, Eleanor Daley, Stephen Chatman and David McIntyre. During the choir's 30th anniversary season in 2006/07, thanks to a grant from the Saskatchewan Arts Board, David L. McIntyre was commissioned to write "Where You Begin Like Rivers," based on a poem by Prince Albert poet John Hicks. The choir often performs quite new works, sometimes even before publication, by arrangement with the composers.

A high point for the choir was 1988: they were finalists in both the CBC choral competition for amateur choirs (chamber choir category) and at the International Choral Kathaumixw in Powell River, British Columbia. A decade later members of the Saskatoon Chamber Singers and the Greystone Singers joined forces as the only choir from the prairie provinces invited to Festival 500, a non-competitive international choral festival in St. John’s, Newfoundland. They have also been the guest choir at Saskatchewan Sings, and sang at the installation of Lynda Haverstock (a former member) as Lieutenant-Governor of Saskatchewan. In 2010, the choir performed at Podium, the biennial conference of the Association of Canadian Choral Communities, held in Saskatoon: first at a joint "spotlight" concert with the Saskatoon Children's Choir, and then as the chorus for Mary Lou Fallis and Peter Tiefenbach's "Primadonna Choralis," a comedic look at the history of choral music.

The Chamber Singers, in addition to its own concert season, often performs with the Saskatoon Symphony. These concerts are generally joint ventures with the University Chorus and Greystone Singers (in earlier years these three choirs were collectively known as the Choral Union). Since 1997, the Chamber Singers have also performed several times with the Saskatchewan Chamber Orchestra. Regular concerts currently include a Remembrance Day Concert, one or two concerts at Christmas (alternating between a Festival of Lessons and Carols and concerts with a major work), and two concerts in late winter and spring.

The Chamber Singers have had four music directors: Robert Solem (1977-1984); Patricia Jamison (1986-1994); Duff Warkentin (1994-2003); and James Hawn (1985-1986 and 2003-).