NEW GLASGOW, NS - Donna Hargreaves’ Christmas starts a little early – two days early, in fact, and it is all about giving and receiving.
Hargreaves is the force behind the annual Sounds of Joy Concert, which takes place Sunday, Dec. 23 and has traditionally packed Trinity United Church.
“We’ll have some very talented young people performing, many of them who are only home for Christmas so it is such a pleasure to hear them,” she said.
The equally pleasurable other side of the coin is that the annual concert has raised thousands of dollars for local causes, including this year’s recipient, Tearmann House shelter for women and children.
It is common to hear that without Hargreaves and her painstaking attention to every detail, the concert likely would not happen at such a busy time of year but she is dismissive.
“I’m happy to do what I do but it’s the performers we should focus on. I’ve always believed people who work hard at their music should have a respectful audience and we have that,” she said.
The concert, which has been happening for almost two decades, is less work than it was in its early years, she added.
“Early on we had many children doing solos and I was doing all the accompanying. Now the performers are coming to me with their offerings and taking over more of the programming and that is a very good thing.”
She pointed out Nicolas Higgs contacted her to propose a number he and Marcel d’Entremont will do together.
“That thrills me and I couldn’t be happier.”
She added she is touched by the enthusiasm repeat performers have for the concert.
“They’re hard-working, busy people, many of them struggling musicians, some with young families, but they hold this concert dear and they are happy to give back.”
A retired elementary school teacher who also taught private lessons, Hargreaves knows most of the performers well.
“Some have been my students or I had their siblings before I retired. Others I’ve met from church or in the community. I feel fortunate to have seen them progress and I’m overjoyed to have them sharing their talent for such an important cause,” said Hargreaves who sits on the Tearmann House board.
She noted the scope of the concert has changed over the years.
“That’s been a natural progression – as the performers became more educated and accomplished their repertoires became more sophisticated. We’re more classical now but the Pos sisters (Jennifer and Melanie) will be offering a jazzy version of a Christmas song. In the past we’ve even had Sean Fraser provide some Scottish songs on bagpipes.”
Not once, she insisted, have any of the performers disappointed her.
“This show is like something you go to Montreal to hear.”
Hargreaves’ passion for music has been life-long. While still a preschooler she could hear tunes on the radio and play them back on piano. As a young teenager she was already managing her church’s junior choir. Raised in Saskatchewan and western Ontario, she studied at University of Western Ontario and at State University New York in Potsdam. It was her late husband Jim’s job at the St. FX music department that brought her to Nova Scotia.
“Those were the days when women followed their husbands. I was able to teach part-time in the music and education departments at St. FX but I wanted to work fulltime so when Frank H. MacDonald School opened I became the music teacher and stayed for many years.”
The family moved from Antigonish County to Pictou County and for many years she taught private lessons in her home. One of her mature students, retired meteorologist Don Cameron became her second husband.
“I knew his mother but we’d never met and a couple of years after my husband had died of cancer, he came to me for flute lessons. Music has certainly brought me a lot of happiness.”
Emery Van de Weil, who is among the Sounds of Joy performers, came from St. Andrew’s, Antigonish County, to take lessons from Hargreaves.
“Being from out of town, I didn’t know her so it was on the recommendation of my previous flute teacher that I went to her. She was a very committed teacher who would only accept a high standard of playing.”
Nicolas Higgs, who is studying in Toronto, credits Hargreaves with arranging the details of the concert to such a degree that performers have only to show up.
“It is refreshing to be able to return home to New Glasgow and immediately be able to give back to the community and we have Donna to thank for that.”
d’Entremont, who just won the $25,000 Wirth Vocal Prize, said he looks forward to the concert each year.
“Donna puts her whole heart into this concert. It is a time of pride for her each year when she sees former students and others she knows performing well and giving back to the community.”
He added Hargreaves work behind the scenes results in an event that enriches the whole community.
“She has given many charitable organizations a boost in visibility and finances and changed lives for the better as a result.”
Other performers include Natalie Alcorn, Nicole Green, Ann Holton Melong, Holly Hagerman, Michelle Johnson, Jodie Miller and the Ash Lane flute quartet.
Sounds of Joy begins at 7 p.m. Admission is by donations at the door, with receipts issued for $20 and over.