Diane Loomer, founder of Chor Leoni Men's Choir and Elektra Women's Choir, has died
Vancouver’s artistic community has lost one of its most beloved members. Diane Loomer, founder and artistic director of Chor Leoni Men’s Choir and EnChor Chamber Choir and cofounder and conductor emerita of Elektra Women’s Choir, died Monday night (December 10) in a Vancouver hospital. She was 72.
Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1940, Loomer moved to Vancouver in 1979 and began her career teaching voice, piano, and music theory at Douglas College, where she conducted the Douglas College Community Choir from 1982 to 1996 and helped establish the Douglas College Children’s Choir. In 1987, Loomer cofounded Vancouver’s Elektra Women’s Choir with current artistic director Morna Edmundson, and in 1992, Loomer created Chor Leoni, one of Canada’s few men’s choirs.
“Chor Leoni is a most extraordinary success story, and it was frankly through her passion and delight in it all,” Christopher Gaze, artistic director of Bard on the Beach, told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview today (December 11). “Her life was immersed in it, but not so that she didn’t recognize that she was working with people all the time, and people are complicated. She had time for everybody and that was part of her genius in a way, her beauty, her singularity and individuality, and the gift she brought to the world. I really do believe that this woman brought special gifts.”
Gaze remembered working with Loomer for the first time when she was assistant director of the Vancouver Bach Choir.
“I met her on the stage at the Orpheum about 20 years ago. I was narrating Henry V with the Bach Choir and she was working for the Bach Choir. I met her then but we have grown close. We spent last Christmas with her and her husband at my sister’s home, and we’re personal friends,” Gaze said. “It’s one of those wonderful artistic relationships that ended up as a deep personal friendship.”
Throughout her career, Loomer arranged and composed several choral works, many of which were published by Cypress Choral Music, which she cofounded with her husband, Richard Loomer. She was the first woman to conduct the National Youth Choir of Canada and was a frequent spokesperson for classical music in Canada.
“I think she had such natural charisma and leadership that she brought a kind of lustre to everything she did,” Edmundson told the Straight by phone. “Whether it was a youth choir in Ontario or Nova Scotia, or a regular rehearsal she was doing in Vancouver, people were really happy to be there in the room, happy to be making music with her, and that was chemistry. It’s not something you can teach somebody. It’s something you have and she had it in spades. It just excited a lot of people about choral music because they were doing it with her.”
Edmundson met Loomer while she was earning a music degree at the University of British Columbia in the early 1980s. The two musicians decided to create a women’s choir after reuniting in 1986 when Loomer was apprentice conductor to Jon Washburn at the Vancouver Chamber Choir and Edmundson was a member of that choir.
“I worked together as cofounders and coconductors of Elektra Women’s Choir for 22 years with Diane, so that started in 1987 and went until 2009 when she stepped down from Elektra,” Edmundson said. “She woke up every day just wanting to make music and help people sing well and encourage people, I would say. She did so much to encourage young conductors and singers.”
In 1990, Loomer was awarded the Healey Willan Award for her contributions to choral music in B.C., and in 1994, she was named the YWCA Vancouver’s Woman of Distinction for Arts and Culture. She was appointed a member of the Order of Canada in 1999, and was awarded the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal for her contributions to Canadian arts and culture in 2002.
“She has, I think, helped to transform choral music in Vancouver to mainstream levels, opened it out, and therefore, even put Vancouver on the map as the centre of choral music in the world, certainly in Canada,” Gaze said.
In September, Chor Leoni announced that Erick Lichte, a choir conductor from Oregon, would be taking over Loomer’s role as artistic director beginning in September 2013. Loomer would move into a new role as conductor emerita; however, Gaze said that those close to Loomer knew that she had been fighting ill health for a long time.
“When you fall in love with somebody, it’s always a risk, and the risk is that you will lose them, but it is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all—I would say about Diane Loomer because I loved her,” Gaze said. “She was a glorious human being…gracious, kind, brilliant musician. … She had a charismatic presence that just was transformative to anyone around her. She was just someone who was very, very special. She’s just irreplaceable.”