The preacher’s kid is packing it in.
Edwina Douglas, sadly no relation to me, has become an icon of voice in the region in the past few years. She arrived here in 1978, newly married, and bringing with her a lifelong history of stages and singing.
As a child, Edwina sang in churches, standing on little platforms with her parents, her rich voice immersed in gospel music. She came by this honestly as her family resembled a travelling gospel singing troupe. She literally grew up singing, playing piano, and starting all over again every time her dad was transferred to a new church.
For Edwina, the music was the message and it was years before she realized that her voice really mattered, that it was an instrument she could control, and grow.
The US loss was Canada’s gain–particularly Barrie’s–when Edwina moved here. It didn’t take long for her to put down her roots and get involved in her young family and music in general. While she worked with ensembles and groups, her dream was a choir. It was 1996 when she decided her kids were independent enough to let her dream take shape.
She wanted a choir where each singer was individually excellent. She wanted seasoned performers. She wanted the music to be memorized so the choir members could really communicate with the audience, visually connecting with their eyes, rather than reading music. She wanted to explore a huge range of repertoire. She wanted only 16 members.
The first newspaper article about her idea resulted in 100 people applying to audition. One hundred people! She chose 22 to begin with, for their individual strengths and their ability to work as a team. She chose people who could shine.
The first concert for this new choir was November, 1996. They were asked to perform at an Ontario Registered Music Teachers Association student recital at Midhurst United Church. The new choir had a new name. Bravado. Together, these performers gave three songs. One of them was an acapella piece, a powerful soulful beat-driven piece called Operator. The audience went “wild” really. And Bravado began to get bookings for other performances, right after that night.
For the past eight years, Bravado has performed two major concerts a year, for more than a single run. Add to that about 70 private shows a year. They sing at conventions, at official openings, a fundraisers, at Christmas parties, corporate parties, Valentines Day, gala events.
All this by a choir whose members are working day jobs.
Bravado has taken on a life of its own. While there is no board of directors, there is a Vision Committee which makes the big pictures decisions and the day-to-day tasks within the group. Everyone in the choir has a job to do and monthly meetings keep it interactive.
And after nine years and hundreds of performances, when people are eager to buy tickets for the few public performances the group does, why would Edwina decide to set aside her director¹s baton?
“We’re going into our 10th year,” she said recently. “Our goals have changed. Bravado became bigger than I ever thought it would become. We¹re a well-oiled machine. We have sound equipment, a stage crew, lighting and wardrobe people, choreographers and that whole end of it is way more than I ever anticipated.”
She reflected on the ambitious yearly itinerary as well as the work involved in developing repertoire, and feels they’ve performed with excellence every time. “Operator” has become the group¹s signature piece. Bravado has tackled competitive pieces, recorded a CD in their fourth year, and has taken on projects which stretched the choir members individually and as a group.
Bravado now has a large overhead, equipment rental costs, annual dues… and Edwina finds herself less free to perform and more tied to direct.
The deaths of her parents recently has given her pause, as it does for most of us, to measure her own life and examine each component to ensure she¹s living it well. She¹s realizing that she has a long list of things yet to do and Bravado is big enough to stand on its own as Edwina heads off to do them.
“I believe there is a span of life to everything that you do. For me, that’s winding up. I’ve made so many friends and that working relationship will be hard to let go. But I have other things I’d like to try and I need to begin to do that.” She’s pretty quiet about what those “things” are right now until she gets confirmation on new activities, but she knows she needs to make room for change to happen.
She wants to sing more. “My heart sings when I sing. I’ve made decisions so I could be around for my kids as they grew. My kids are now living their adult lives.”
She expects a new director to surface to take over Bravado and she’s opened her door already to emerging opportunities. October 24 she’ll appear with some of the original performers of Mama Mia as they appear in a one-night event at The Roxx. She worked this summer with Larissa Mair’s Young Company for the show Beauty and the Beast. She enjoys the beginning and end of a project.
Her own day job as a voice teacher is an ongoing process. She’s working on a new show involving three women and three lives. She¹s creating space in her brain to actually create, rather than manage.
She’s watched her two children, Jenna and Nate, prepare to leave the proverbial nest. It seems that that third “child”, Bravado, is ready also to soar on its own.
And as a community, we are enriched by this remarkable choir, the performers who’ve been there from the start, and those who’ve joined as others vacated. It’s a big choir of big voices and the December show (2 and 3) at Collier United Church will be bittersweet performances with Edwina at the helm. But Edwina’s move to sing more and manage less will create new opportunity for another talent. Stay tuned…
And Edwina? Thanks.