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The gift of his legacy
Jennifer Stratton-Renouf was always inspired by her music teacher Gary Graham.
She followed in his footsteps in many ways, completing a music degree and using her expertise to teach music to young children as an elementary school teacher.
Now, she’s stepping into the seat he once occupied in hope she can continue his musical legacy in the City of Corner Brook.
Stratton-Renouf has taken the reins as director for the Graham Academy Chorale.
Welcome Christmas, the name of this year's Advent choral concert put on by Gros Morne Summer Music, will be the first entirely prepared and conducted at the organization's Graham Academy without its namesake.
Mr. Graham, a musical instructor in Corner Brook for 53 years, died of cancer at the age of 73 this past June.
Stratton-Renouf, who started learning piano from Graham when she was in Grade 4, will now be the one with the keys at her fingertips as she conducts the choir.
While Mr. Graham won’t be there, Stratton-Renouf wants to ensure he’s still there in spirit.
“Especially since this is our first concert without him there,” she told The Western Star. “The biggest thing that’s important to me is that we keep singing, we keep making music, we keep doing the best we can, and to not stop.”
Stratton-Renouf called it humbling to have Mr. Graham’s trust to take on this role.
Last year, she said Mr. Graham really wanted to get the chorale program back underway and asked if she would help.
“I don’t know if he saw me as having somewhat of a leadership role, but I felt very much like I was there to support him so he could do the work that he still wanted to do,” she said. “I feel that still connecting with the kids and the music and coming out to rehearsals, kept him going.”
The final chorale concert they prepared was the spring concert held in June.
At first, they alternated for rehearsals, but Stratton-Renouf eventually filled in for him more frequently as Mr. Graham’s health worsened.
By the end of May, he was no longer able to attend rehearsals.
Although Mr. Graham started developing the chorale, Stratton-Renouf was left to finish it.
He was unable to attend the concert.
“I knew he was there in spirit and, although it was very stressful, I felt at least I was able to finish the work that he was unable to be there for,” she said.
He died 10 days later.
That summer, Stratton-Renouf had to decide whether to proceed in the role of directing the Graham Academy Chorale.
It wasn’t an easy decision, given her work and family responsibilities.
Ultimately, she felt it was something she had to do.
Stratton-Renouf sees leading the chorale as a sort of bequest from Mr. Graham.
“I was giving him the gift of helping him finish what he needed but he also gifted me the opportunity to lead and continue the chorale,” she said.
While she sees it as a way to nurture her own musical passions, she also wants to help continue his musical legacy in Corner Brook.
“Those of us that have been taught by Gary or worked with Gary, we don’t want to see that calibre of music ending in our community,” she said. “We want to keep it going.”
The continuation of that musical legacy can be witnessed when Stratton-Renouf directs the Welcome Christmas Choral at the All Saints Church in Corner Brook this Sunday at 7 p.m.
The Graham Academy Chorale will be featured along with the vocal stylings of soprano Lindsay Barrett and baritone Peter Barrett.
The concert will also showcase the Gary Graham Alumni Chorale for the very first time.