BRACEBRIDGE - A former local choir conductor received the highest civilian award in Canada for his musical work.
It’s almost what you might call a dream come true ... I never expected it — Albert Greer
Albert Greer was named a Member of the Order of Canada in December “for his achievements as a conductor, composer and teacher helping to shape the direction of Canadian choral music.”
Those achievements include many musical arrangements, compositions, teaching at high schools and York University and a long list of choirs he’s conducted, some of which he founded, including the Ontario Youth Choir, the North York Chorus, the Couchiching Young Singers and the Cellar Singers.
“It’s almost what you might call a dream come true except I didn’t dream it. I never expected it,” he said.
The nomination was inspired by the Cellar Singers who diligently practiced under him for 35 ½ years until he retired in the spring of 2012.
“W hen I took it on in 1977 it was just a very minor part of my life and there were only 13 people, I think, at the first rehearsal,” he said. “In the 80s it took over my life and I met and worked with so many wonderful singers, not only in Muskoka where it began, but all over Simcoe County.”
Ruth Bell-Towns has been with the choir for 25 years and was one of Greer’s vocal students.
“He never really got very angry with us ever, he has quite a personality for being able to continue working with a group, even perhaps when he might be frustrated with them,” she said.
Through Greer, the choir was able to perform in Budapest, Prague, Great Britain and at the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa.
“We were very fortunate because he had a lot of connections in music so he was able to get very young good soloists to play with us,” Bell-Towns said.
Finding professional soloists, orchestras and accompanists was important to Greer.
His goal with the choir was to create the same quality of performance and selection of music as is found in the most sophisticated cities around the world, he said.
He called the Cellar Singers unique in their ability to offer big-city performances in small-town areas like Bracebridge.
Greer broke a family mould with his musical pursuits. He considered many careers and studied both accounting and medicine to appease his family, but didn’t decide on music until he had to choose between studying medicine and the music he loved and performed.
“You just do it because you can’t give it up,” he said.
He began teaching at high schools to support his musical career, raising five children on his income.
“You have to go into it despite all kinds of opposition. A musical career is not a guaranteed income,” he said.
At the Cellar Singers performance of Messiah in November Greer performed a solo, but at 75 he plans to hand his solo career over to a younger generation.
“People my age are not carrying on singing careers,” he said. “I did prove that I could still do it.”
Though missing the first few rehearsals after his retirement was difficult, Greer is ready to hand over the baton and the 60-member choir to new artistic director Mitchell Pady.
Greer will receive his insignia at a ceremony later this year.