Phoebe Voigts (HS’76)
Phoebe Voigts (HS’76)
Phoebe Voigts (HS’76), Founding Artistic Director of the internationally known Saskatoon Children’s Choir (SCC), grew up singing. “Lutherans sing,” says Phoebe. “We sing Bach.” Phoebe’s first source of musical inspiration was her mother, the late Winnifred Voigts, who was an accomplished organist, choral conductor, and music educator. At Luther, Phoebe’s love and appreciation of music was further fostered by her experience in Carl Cherland’s choir, which had a “significant influence” on her decision to pursue music at University. “It was certainly something I wanted to be in my life.”
After graduating from Luther’s High School campus in 1976, Phoebe attended Luther’s University campus and pursued further studies at the University of Alberta, the University of Manitoba, and the Royal College of Church Music in Croydon, England. After her post-secondary training, she became a Music Specialist with the Saskatoon Public School Division (SPSD) and worked as a teacher there for more than thirty years. Phoebe was a frequent presenter at music education conferences and the recipient of many awards, including the YWCA Women of Distinction Award in Arts, the Saskatchewan Music Educators Award for Outstanding Achievement, the Saskatchewan Choral Federation Pro Musica Award, and the Rotary Golden Wheel Award. She was also named the Children’s Champion 2011 of the Child and Youth Friendly Saskatoon.
In 1996, Phoebe founded the SCC, with the modest intention of starting a community choir in which her children and nieces could sing Bach. Much to her surprise, it grew into something bigger, more successful, and more impactful than she could ever have imagined or hoped for – a world-class choir of choristers aged seven to seventeen with a reputation for its commitment to artistic integrity and creativity. In 2011, Phoebe retired from teaching to focus more time and energy on the choir, which had itself become a full-time job.
For years Phoebe understood that music held the power “to connect with all people,” but it was during the SCC’s first international Kathaumixw festival in 2000 that she caught her first glimpse of the power this connection might hold. “There were choirs from all over the world and yet we had these groups of youth singing together and there was absolutely no language barrier. It was something inspiring to witness.”
That festival marked the moment that Phoebe realized the choir could in fact effect meaningful change in the world, and that involvement in humanitarian efforts and projects was not just a possibility, but an obligation. “It very quickly became clear to me that the SCC was in a unique position in that they could connect with audiences in a way that adult groups couldn’t always do. We started to work with different projects to have our focus be on not only artistic excellence, but also humanitarian work. We couldn’t do everything but we could do something.”
That something includes benefit concerts at home in Saskatchewan and abroad, where proceeds are donated to various groups in need, and partnering with organizations such as the Lutheran World Federation. And the benefit of these humanitarian efforts reaches beyond those on the receiving end; being an SCC chorister is, for many, an enriching, eye-opening experience, the personal reward of which lasts well into adulthood. “The relationships the choristers build are significant during these projects. Their life decisions are influenced by those experiences. The SCC has entered its twentieth year this year and as so many alumni are coming back for our anniversary celebrations, it’s incredible to see how many are involved in both music and humanitarian activities. They are remarkable.”
Being part of the SCC provides choristers with an experience beyond simply that of singing in a choir. “Singing in a group can illicit all kinds feelings – of belonging, of community, and a form of praise. And that is important. But further than that, one has a sense of group obligation and responsibility. In the SCC, we try to foster an obligation to participate. More than saying we can share true music – we can, and should, and must participate in creating a future for children everywhere that face different injustices and have different challenges. It is healthy and good that we put these responsibilities on our youth.”
Though 2016 is not a tour year for the choir, impressive and exciting things are happening. In addition to focusing on and celebrating their twentieth anniversary, they have recently announced their latest initiative: they will be applying to sponsor a refugee family. This latest project, entitled “Welcome Home,” requires a great deal of time and commitment from the SCC’s staff members, choristers, and their families – concerts to raise the substantial sponsorship fees, followed by the many and varied responsibilities in helping to set up and support the new family as they settle into a home on Canadian soil. The objective is ambitious, but the group is excited and eager to take on this newest challenge.
“We are a collaborative organization comprised of many committed volunteers, parents, and people in the community,” Phoebe says, adding: “We are very blessed to have the support of all kinds of musicians in the city and have the benefit of many strong role models full of expertise. This is a unique group and they’re all really special. We share the conviction of Luther College that artistic and humanitarian initiatives are about belonging to something bigger than one person; this choir is about belonging to something that’s bigger than you. It’s together that we’re doing something meaningful.” Ultimately, though, like so many of those things in life that matter most – love, faith – Phoebe says that “the most important parts of the SCC cannot be articulated. They are just felt.”
Though Phoebe only attended Luther College for her final two years of high school, those two years would be integral to her future. Carl Cherland was hired as a Luther teacher in 1975, and was immediately tasked with taking over artistic control of the choir. Phoebe was one of the choristers who would form part of his first choir at the high school and the impression he left on her is clear. When asked, “why did you choose this career?” her answer comes without hesitation: “Carl Cherland.”
Phoebe’s experience overall at Luther left a lasting impression as well. In considering the significance of her time at Luther, Phoebe says, “It’s about relationships. It’s a school where the students have a very strong feeling of being welcomed, nurtured, encouraged, and challenged. You are part of a heritage at Luther.”
In honour of their parents, the Voigts family is a proud sponsor of the Don and Winnifred Voigts Scholarship. Phoebe indicated that there was no question that her family would continue to support the scholarship, explaining that “Luther College offers high academic standards and artistic excellence in a Christian context. We absolutely want to continue to support that. Luther has shaped all of our lives and we’re very grateful. It nurtured and sustained the pre-existing faith base that both my sisters and I had. And – for me – my inner artist.”
For more information about SCC, please visit their website at www.saskatoonchildrenschoir.org.