Mark Clairmont |

GRAVENHURST — There was lots of singing and laughter Sunday night at St. Paul’s Catholic Church.

The Muskoka Advent Choir was celebrating its 25th season and fifth of sixth concerts.

In the town where it all began, in 1994, when Baptist Pastor George Johnston began with 35 eager volunteer singers and grew to 110 seven years ago when he retired to Keswick.

Last night he and his wife, Eileen, were back to hear the choir, which though half the size is still as full of joy.

Under the direction of Linda Ellsworth the past five years, the 55 singers filled the church to its warm wooden rafters with the well-known story as told through the eyes of little 11-year-old “Sarah Reed,” (played by Khloe Rose Brown and Melody Maxson) as she counts down the days to Christmas by writing to her Nana (Glad Bryce).

Left to right the 55-member strong Muskoka Advent Choir sang with joy to the world Sunday night at St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Gravenhurst.

“Waiting for Christmas” combines all the best elements of choral music, with canned music, soaring voices and uplifting and intimate solos chosen to reflect upon the reason for the season.

Alto Rena Gaile’s rollicking, gospel-inspired solo on “What Did You Say Was The Baby’s Name?” had both the choir and audience clapping — with the latter showing their appreciation following by extending their hands in appreciative applause.

Other soloists included sopranos Alicia Power, Emily and Rachel Kuehn, Grace Alva, Julianna Richardson and Sherry Watkinson; and tenors Luke LaRocque and Gorden Heidman.

Pianist Karen Procek and violinist LaRocque also offered a lovely musical interlude during which a collection was taken up for the Muskoka Chaplaincy Association; the Orillia Pregnancy Resource Centre and the Door Youth Drop-In Centre in Huntsville.

Hospitals chaplain Karen Hamra spoke touchingly about  how she helps patients, especially at this time of year.

And Jack Cline, an original member of the choir, laughed about the choir’s third year, when they were singing at the Kearney Catholic Church.

He was at the “epicentre” of a near disaster.

Surrounded by about 80 ladies, he came bearing bad news that they couldn’t sit on stage during intermission.

Just then, the earth gave way as a beam under the floor gave way and they fell a foot-and-half; and they were on the precipice of falling a further dozen feet or more.

That was the last time, joke the priest that a Baptist minister would allowed to conduct a service in the Catholic church.

The choir was brilliant sounding from all sides as they sang 10 pieces, plus a couple of audience participation carols.

Johnston remembered that early episode, after Sunday’s concert, where he said he continues to preach occasionally in retirement at his son’s church in Barrie and at a couple of churches in the Keswick area.

Another retired minister at the concert was Father Joe Morrow, who left St. Paul’s last June, replaced by Father John Albao who hosted the choir and about 125 people.

Alboa also warmly greeted his neighbour, Rev. Heather Manuel, of St. James Anglican Church. She is the chair of the Muskoka Chaplaincy and welcomed the audience.

A traditional pizza reception followed the 90-minute concert.

The choir’s final performance is Sunday, Dec. 16, at the Pinegrove Fellowship Church at 295 Taylor Rd. in Bracebridge, at 7 p.m.

They start four weeks of practices the week after Thanksgiving, when they receive a book and CD of the music and they perform six concerts over two weeks.

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