Beatles provide ample material for Soundings Vocal Ensemble


What: Soundings Sings the Beatles
Where: Dave Dunnet Community Theatre, Oak Bay High School, 2121 Cadboro Bay Rd.
When: Friday, May 24, 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $25 at
Note: Soundings Sings the Beatles will also perform Saturday, May 25, at the Mary Winspear Centre, 2243 Beacon Ave., Sidney

The enduring popularity of the Beatles is good news for music-makers everywhere, from rock groups who channel the Fab Four’s timeless harmonies to tribute acts that mine the outfits of Liverpool mop-tops for kitschy fun.

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Denis Donnelly, choir director of Victoria’s Soundings Vocal Ensemble, is taking a run at the catalogue of John Lennon and Paul McCartney with two unique shows this weekend under the banner of Soundings Sings the Beatles.

Donnelly’s 17-voice ensemble, which normally performs a capella, will be joined by several guests for performances Friday at the Dave Dunnet Community Theatre in Oak Bay High School, and Saturday at the Mary Winspear Centre in Sidney, including the Cascadia String Quartet.

“That’s one of the things that distinguishes us from the other choirs in town — we rarely use accompaniment,” Donnelly said. “In this particular case, it was necessary to go outside that box a little bit and get the string quartet involved.”

The Cascadia String Quartet — violinists Kathryn Wiebe and Tyson Doknjas, violist Barry Leung and cellist Erin Tinney — will join Soundings on the majority of songs, though some of the material will feature four- and six-member groups pulled from the choir to perform without accompaniment.

“Being of the generation which grew up with the Beatles, I was very influenced by them and I’ve been stockpiling arrangements that I’ve done, most of which are unaccompanied a capella arrangements,” said Donnelly, adding that he was able to track down the original string charts by Beatles producer George Martin for Eleanor Rigby.

“One ambition I’ve always had was to get to the point where I had enough for a full evening concert of Beatles songs. And one of the things that made that come to fruition was the string quartet.”

Local choir director Marc Jenkins, who leads community groups The Choir and The Chorus, has been asked by Donnelly to introduce each of the 21 songs being performed with some historical context.

For most performances by Soundings, which formed in 2001, Donnelly does the introductions himself. This time, he wanted somebody outside the choir to do it.

“It was interesting to find out that his mom was the town Beatlemaniac back in Ontario [where Jenkins grew up], so even though he is not of the Beatles’ generation directly, he’s really got some interesting things to say.”

The difficulty when it comes to the Beatles catalogue, Donnelly said, is the volume of notable songs.

Can’t Buy Me Love and Hey Jude were immediate adds to the program, given the vocal dynamics of the originals, but he broke from tradition to include Because, Julia and Blackbird, which are not familiar fodder for choirs.

Being forced to choose one hall-of-fame song over another is a good problem to have, Donnelly said with a laugh. That he could have chosen nothing but lesser-known Beatles songs and still felt confident going into the concerts says something about the legacy of what is generally regarded as the greatest pop group in history.

“There has never been anybody quite like the Beatles. They never go out of fashion.”

Donnelly pointed out that Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson has footage from the band’s Let it Be and Abbey Road sessions, and is putting together a documentary this summer, while the upcoming movie Yesterday, due June 28 from Oscar winner Danny Boyle, is all about the Beatles’ songs.

“Kids of kids and now kids of kids of kids are discovering their music, so I thought this would be a nice time for everyone.”

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