Traveling the world and sharing the gift of music
When Julie Meisner nervously stepped onto a stage to audition for the Whitby County Town Singers 27 years ago, it’s highly unlikely that she knew how the decision would truly affect her life.
Since that fateful day more than two decades ago, Meisner has been afforded the opportunity to travel the world sharing the gift of music, while forging lifelong friendships along the way.
“I’ve said a number of times lately I really wonder what direction my life would have gone in if I hadn’t joined the group,” Meisner says.
Born and raised in Oshawa, Meisner revealed her only singing experience prior to joining the County Town Singers was with a church choir in her youth.
Despite the relative lack of initial experience, Meisner says she has always had a passion for music and the craft of singing.
After attending a few performances by the Country Town Singers, Meisner decided she wanted in.
She described her audition as “nerve-wracking”, a feeling that sustained into her first performance months later.
“I still remember there were about 60 people and I thought everyone was watching me,” Meisner recalled with a laugh. “I don’t think I moved through the first half of the show. At the intermission, I was so stiff and sore from not moving.”
Meisner admits it took her “maybe five or six years” before she felt completely comfortable performing.
“The more experiences you have the easier it gets. But if you are not a bit nervous you aren’t concentrating and the minute you aren’t concentrating then you forget the words,” Meisner surmised. “My confidence has grown. Before it was a really strong nervous anticipation, but now I find there is a nervous excitement because you are going to share all of this with everyone. To do that is just a wonderful feeling.”
Parallel to the increase in her confidence as a performer has been the platforms on which Meisner has been able to share her talents. Her tenure with the County Town Singers has taken her across Durham Region, Canada and the world.
The group was invited to Ottawa this July to participate in the celebration of Canada 150, performing at the Shaw Centre and the grand reopening of the National Art Centre.
Meisner’s musical exploits have not only been domestic, but international as well.
On April 13, 2014, Meisner stood on the stage of New York City’s famed Carnegie Hall as part of the unveiling of acclaimed composer Christopher Tin’s second song cycle, The Drop That Contained The Sea, to a capacity crowd.
“[That night] is probably number one in my music experiences,” Meisner says fondly.
The Drop That Contained The Sea was a unique collection of nine songs, all performed in different languages with one connecting dynamic – water.
“We had a full orchestra in front of us, and at the end, Christopher Tin received a three-minute standing ovation,” Meisner says with a smile.
“Then [Tin] and director Jonathan Griffin turned around and were blowing kisses to the choir. I almost burst into tears when we were finished.”
Another highlight for Meisner was performing with one of only seven choirs, and the only one from Canada, invited to the inaugural Rhythms of One World International Choral Festival in New York City in 2012.
“It was amazing, there was a boys choir from South Africa, a girls choir from Trinidad and Tobago, the Appalachian Children’s Choir from West Virginia, and the Luxemburg Choir,” Meisner says.
She will always remember standing on the stage of the Lincoln Center, cataloging in her mind all the performers who had shared the stage previously, describing it as a “surreal moment”.
Later on that trip, she and her colleagues had the honour of performing in front of the General Assembly of the United Nations, a feat she repeated in Geneva, Switzerland in 2014.
Through her journeys with the County Town Singers, Meisner has also sang at Victoria Hall in England and in front of more than 50,000 people at Rogers Centre (then known as SkyDome) before a Blue Jays game in Toronto, and performed in major European cities such as Prague, Munich, Budapest, and Vienna.
In 1997, to commemorate their 30th anniversary, the Whitby group headed on a two-week tour of southern Ireland, during a very tumultuous time for the country.
“It was very interesting, that’s when the Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland were still fighting…people were burning cars at the border. However, they came to a peace agreement while we there, so it was really significant,” Meisner says.
“I was in a small ensemble and one of the songs we did was A Song of Peace and I just thought, ‘Wow, this is so fitting’”.
Beyond the worldwide escapes, Meisner says the group has also given her great friends and a second family.
A few years ago, Meisner’s husband was diagnosed with neck cancer, a condition which ultimately claimed his life.
“The last two years were a very slow, downhill process and he eventually lost his vision,” Meisner says.
Living in Peterborough at the time, Meisner would make the weekly trek to Durham Region to practice with County Town Singers.
“A girl across the road from me in Peterborough joined the choir, so we would travel together. I would come for that five hours and I’d be away from my everyday life and I’d be in my own world,” she says.
Whether it was bringing she and her husband dinner, sending kind words through an email or just giving a friendly hug, Meisner said her fellow members of the group were a crucial support system during the most difficult time of her life.
“All the support I got from the group at that time, I’m not sure I’d have gotten through it as well as I did without it to be honest with you,” Meisner says.
Meisner asserts she has no plans to step off the stage anytime soon.
“I will do it as long as I absolutely can,” Meisner says.
She gets inspiration from a fellow member, who has been with the County Town Singers for its entire 50 year history.
“She’s 85 and went to Ottawa with us and stood on the stage the whole time. She’s amazing and it definitely gives you something to look up to,” Meisner says.
Taking a well-deserved break during the summer, Meisner will join up with her fellow County Town Singers in September to prepare for their Christmas concerts in December.
For more information on the County Town Singers, including membership, visit countytownsingers.com.