Double bill a first for choir and jazz ensemble

Matt Gardner
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The University of Saskatchewan Greystone Singers -- shown here with professor and choir conductor Gerald Langner standing in the middle -- will be performing along with the U of S Jazz Ensemble on Sunday, March 2 at the E.A. Rawlinson Centre.

Two musical ensembles from the University of Saskatchewan are joining forces for an upcoming concert in Prince Albert.

While the U of S Jazz Ensemble and mixed-voice choir The Greystone Singers have previously performed in the city, their upcoming joint performance marks a first for both groups.

“This is the first time that I think the Greystones and the Jazz Ensemble have ever done a tour together, so it’s sort of a neat combination to try something different,” professor and jazz ensemble conductor Dean McNeill said.

Both choir and jazz ensemble will perform at the E.A. Rawlinson Centre on Sunday, March 2 at 7:30 p.m.

McNeill noted their excitement at the prospect of playing Prince Albert’s premier concert venue.

“Our students are going to have a great time … The reputation of your hall is that it’s a very good hall to sing in and to play in, and so we’re very excited about getting that opportunity to play in this beautiful performance space that you have in Prince Albert,” McNeill said.

“I don’t mind saying publicly that it is the envy of Saskatoon … We have nothing comparable to the Rawlinson Centre,” he added.

Students from a variety of disciplines make up the ranks of the Jazz Ensemble and Greystone Singers, with approximately half drawn from the university music program.

The repertoire of the Greystone Singers -- named for the distinctive architecture on campus -- includes a variety of styles from classical to spirituals to folk songs, performed in a choral style with occasional instrumental accompaniment.

Meanwhile, the jazz ensemble performs historically diverse material using the classic big band format of four trumpets, four trombones, five saxophones, piano, bass and drums.

Though the group often performs swing era-tunes by the likes of Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman at dances and fundraisers, its Prince Albert concert will emphasize what McNeill referred to as “concert jazz music” with a more contemporary feel.

Professor and Greystone Singers conductor Gerald Langner noted that students regularly crossover between the choir and jazz ensemble.

“Our students are very talented,” Langner said. “For example, one of our accompanists also plays with the jazz ensemble as well and sings in the choir, and a few of the students that sing in Greystone Singers also turn out to be vocalists for the jazz ensemble as well.”

“We have that style capability … of exposing our students to everything that’s possible, which is one of their mandates here at the department,” he added.

This is the first time that I think the Greystones and the Jazz Ensemble have ever done a tour together, so it’s sort of a neat combination to try something different. Dean McNeill

Each group tours throughout the academic year across the province and occasionally journeys outside Saskatchewan to perform, with the Greystone Singers having performed in the United States and Europe.

McNeill characterized the concerts as an expression of the University of Saskatchewan mandate for students.

“Part of the mandate … of the university in general is something that’s called outreach and engagement, and that is to share with the community what is going on at the university,” he said. “So one important way we do that with our ensembles is to go do concerts.”

Touring aside, both the choir and jazz ensemble have built names for themselves through their recorded output, with each releasing several albums sold to recoup costs and generate revenue for the groups.

Critical acclaim eventually led to the Greystone Singers winning the Mixed-Voice Collegiate Choirs category in the 2013 Association of Canadian Choral Communities (ACCC) National Competition for Canadian Amateur Choirs.

“We’re very fortunate … We’ve come second a number of times as well,” Langner said. “But in all our ensembles, the students work at a very, very high level.

“We rehearse a number of hours a week -- probably three hours per week at least -- so they get quite involved and they get quite in good in all our ensembles and choirs.”

Noting the achievements of program alumni, McNeill said that the groups’ Prince Albert show would appeal to jazz and choir fans alike.

“This should be a really neat experience,” he said. “People would be coming out and supporting the University of Saskatchewan, they’d be supporting the youth of Saskatchewan -- and they might be hearing the next famous singer or instrumentalist, who’s not famous yet because they’re still in university.”

Tickets cost $23.10 and are available online or at the box office.


Greystone Singers slideshow


U of S Jazz Ensemble slideshow

Organizations: Prince Albert, Rawlinson Centre, The Greystone Singers University of Saskatchewan Association of Canadian Choral Communities Canadian Amateur Choirs

Geographic location: Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, United States Europe

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