THE AMABILIS SINGERS
The Amabilis Singers were originally formed in 1980 as The Douglas College Community Choir. In 1989 the singers packed their bags, severed their collegial ties, and became an independent community choir. The group’s West Coast roots served as inspiration for the new name: the Amabilis Fir (also known as the Pacific Silver Fir) is a species indigenous to coastal forests. The botanical name Amabilis means “lovely”, which the choir was quite content to assimilate as a descriptor!
Over its long history, the ensemble has fluctuated in size from well over 120 to its present 65. Although based in New Westminster, its singers faithfully travel from all corners of the Lower Mainland for weekly rehearsals. The choristers represent all walks of life, including accountants, college instructors, teachers, students, IT specialists, government employees, nurses, self-employed entrepreneurs, surveyors, and retirees in search of a rewarding musical challenge. Enthusiastic and eager to learn all types of music, this group of singers has, from its inception, always demonstrated a very special spirit of camaraderie and joie de vivre that not even the most difficult music can stifle!
Upon the retirement of Founder/Director Diane Loomer in 1996, Anne Wilson Unger led the Amabilis Singers for a happy decade. In 2006 Ramona Luengen was named Artistic Director, ushering in a renewed communal effort to consistently improve and undertake more challenging works.
The Amabilis Singers have performed music of many musical periods and styles, including large works such as Mozart’s Requiem (2012), Carmina Burana, in celebration of the group’s 30th anniversary in 2011, Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem (2009) with the Shaughnessy Heights United Church Choir, as well as everything in between – from Bach to Lauridsen, Handel to Whitacre, and Rachmaninoff to Ešenvalds.
A once-in-a-lifetime experience was our tour to Italy in the exceedingly hot summer of 2015. Performance venues included the Pantheon in Rome, the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, Duomo d’Orvieto, Montecatini Thermal Baths, Abbazio di Sant’Antimo, Santa Maria in Portico Fontegiusta in Siena, and Florence’s Piazzale Michelangelo – all breathtakingly beautiful and humbling.
In the Spring of 2017, we sang James Whitbourne’s stunning Luminosity for choir, viola, organ, tanpura and tam-tam in the glorious acoustic of Vancouver’s Holy Rosary Cathedral, and were deeply rewarded.
Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem, which we performed with our own Ingrid Verseveldt and renowned Canadian pianist Jane Coop in April 2018 was a truly memorable highlight. We delved deep into the text, music and structure, built our stamina to meet the demands of this remarkable work and plied and cajoled our mouths and tongues around the German language with the greatest of care and effort. We pulled off perhaps the most nuanced and expressive singing of our lives. Our hearts were full, our souls transported, and we were profoundly reminded why it is we sing as a choir.
The power of nature inspired our spring 2019 concert, with its evocative soundscapes and radiant energy. Amabilis drew in the audience with breathtaking musical depictions of storms, northern lights, fire, water and the still of evening in a program highlighted by Eric Whitacre’s Cloudburst, Ēriks Ešenvald’s Rivers of Light and Katerina Gimon’s Fire, J. Aaron McDermid’s Water, Barbara Baker’s The Storm is Passing Over and Stanley M. Hoffman’s arrangement of Beau Soir.
Our 2019–2020 season featured the extraordinary Magnificat by the young Norwegian composer Kim André Arnesen on February 29th, 2020. We performed this remarkable seven-movement fifty-minute work with piano and an ensemble of strings and were transported by the heartfelt melodic writing and radiant harmonies.
With preparations for the Amabilis Singers’ 40th anniversary concert underway, we were excited at the prospect of singing alongside the many alumni who signed up to participate. Regretfully, as with choirs around the world, we found it suddenly necessary to terminate the rest of our season. With the alarming growth of the COVID-19 pandemic, we ceased all rehearsals and concerts.
As the 2020-2021 season unfolded, we continued to meet virtually as we awaited safer times and the resumption of rehearsals and concerts. We invited members and friends of Amabilis to join us for a series of online seminars presented by our Artistic Director, Dr. Ramona Luengen. Ramona’s in-depth, fascinating presentations were informative yet fun sessions that allowed us to explore different aspects of music as we stayed connected. From the historical Birth of Choral Music, through the exploration of composers’ Demands on the Singer, the soundscapes of George Crumb and the origins of Christmas carols, we looked at singing together through different lenses.