The Serenata Singers date back to a late 1970s gathering of interested people in the Don Mills area forming a community choir under the leadership of John Boorman. They rehearsed at Taylor Place Seniors’ Centre, hence the name Taylor Place Choir. The first accompanist was Ruth Rankin and membership began at about 20, gradually increasing. Minutes of an early executive meeting, state that monthly dues were 50 cents plus a yearly membership in the Taylor Place complex. A successful application to the government’s New Horizon program allowed for a purchase of music, a piano and storage cabinets. A recorder group was also started and sometimes the groups performed together. The choir was very active in the community and won several awards in competitions such as Kiwanis, Kitchener festivals, Ontario Senior’s Games. It cost $1.25 for a 1983 concert ticket; it rose to $2.00 in 1984!
In 1985 John retired and Sid Bagnall, whose work with the A.O.T.S. men’s choir was well-known, took over. One of our present pianists, Stan Farrow, played for this group, and wrote the theme song, “Singing the Years Away”, dedicated to Sid. The two choirs, under Sid’s direction, presented a Spring Concert in 1987. Sid continued the Taylor Place program but the name
changed slightly, ‘Choir’ being replaced by’ Singers’, to more reflect the type of music presented. Places the group performed at include Japanese Cultural Centre, Royal Bank Seniors’ Jubilee, local churches, C.I.B.C. National Music Festival., North York Winter Carnival, Markham Senior’s Extravaganza, as well as their own concerts. Lorna Holmes became the pianist in 1991 and Norm Hendriks did a bit of accompanying in the early 90s to spell Lorna.
In 1993 Sid retired and asked Audrey McLeod to assume music leadership. He knew her work and felt she was a good fit, which proved true as she remained director until 2012. Rehearsing at Taylor Place became more difficult as it lacked a separate room for music. Coexisting with bridge players and other groups was far from ideal. Thanks to Sid’s interest, new space was found at Wilmar Heights United Church in 1993. The music was moved out but the piano was left. With this fresh start, the group renamed itself the ‘Serenata Singers’, a name suggested by one member. Another member designed the logo. Sadly Lorna Holmes passed away suddenly in 2001, but she had arranged for a capable replacement in Phyllis Russell.
The choir continued with concerts in various churches and appearances at venues such as Sunnybrook Veteran’s Wing, Shepard Village, Cummer Lodge , Scarborough Civic Centre, Markham Theatre, Doors Open, Studio Theatre. They added another first place finish in the Kiwanis Festival. As the choir expanded, finding a suitable concert hall became a challenge. From 2001 on two spring concerts were usually given to accommodate audiences. A matinee as well as an evening performance was offered, with midweek selected so that weekends were free for other activities. The traditional “May Melodies” title gave way to a different concert name and theme each season. In 1997 Stan Farrow popped in for a few rehearsals and thus split the concert piano work with Phyllis Russell. By 2010 he was coming full season and taking over a larger portion of the accompanying. He and Phyllis remain a remarkable team.
For a few concerts, there were guest M. Cs; later choir members took on the role. Guest artists also performed - instrumentalists, (drums, violin, harp, flute, bell ringers), singers and dancers. In 1998, members featured a new look. The men had black vests and a black bowtie, which was switched for a red traditional tie at half time. The women wore reversible vests, black for the first half, switching to red at half time. Much of the vest production was provided by capable choir members. Occasionally a scarf was added and the men wore mustaches for a special number. In 1998 the choir began donating a portion of concert proceeds to charity and this became a yearly practice. Some of the recipients were Eva’s Initiatives, The Red Door, Woodgreen Centre, Music Therapy Fund, War Child.
In 2012 Audrey McLeod felt she had offered all she could and the reins passed to the first director who wasn’t a senior, Joshua Tamayo. He managed to find a balance that acknowledged limitations but also demanded quality, finding a pleasant way to convince seniors that most goals could be reached. The Serenata Singers celebrated it’s 40th Anniversary under Josh’s leadership with one original member, Margaret Taylor who was 101 at that time, she has since retired and still visits the choir and attends concerts when she can. The choir has been fortunate in acquiring another exemplary director, Leanne Piller. Leanne brings with her vast knowledge of choral singing which she has very skillfully imparted to the choir, all the time demanding precision and quality work. She brings a great sense of humour and joy with her and has imparted her joy of singing to each and every chorister. Leanne will very capably lead the choir into it’s 45th year as the “Serenata Singers” during this upcoming choral season 2020-2021.
The choir sings a variety of music, mostly in 4 part harmony. Folk songs, Broadway, Canadiana, gospel, golden oldies, pop, spirituals, make up much of the repertoire. We are proud to be self-supporting , raising funds through membership fees, donations, and annual concerts. As well as enjoying music, the Singers are a warm, supportive and social group. Friendships abound and people genuinely care about each other. The love of singing binds a wide variety of people into a solid seniors’ group that appreciates the help of family, friends and organizations which allows them to continue. We invite interested singers to come and join us.