Woden Valley Youth Choir artistic director Alpha Gregory named artist of the year
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Woden Valley Youth Choir artistic director Alpha Gregory named artist of the year

Alpha Gregory has been the artistic director of the Woden Valley Youth Choir for nearly two decades - and it's a multifaceted and deep-reaching role. On Monday night, Gregory was named Artist of the Year at the 26th ACT Arts Awards hosted by the Canberra Critics' Circle.

The citation read, in part, "As well as being the Artistic Director of the three choirs which make up the Woden Valley Youth Choir organisation she has been choir conductor, teacher, tour guide, CD producer, administrator, yearbook publisher, choreographer, stylist, fiercest supporter and strongest music critic."

Artistic director of Woden Valley Youth Choir Alpha Gregory.

Artistic director of Woden Valley Youth Choir Alpha Gregory.Credit:Elesa Kurtz

In a ceremony at the Canberra Museum and Gallery she was presented with a cheque for $1000 cheque and a F!NK vase designed by Canberra artist Robert Foster who died in June.

Convenor Helen Musa said the Canadian-born Gregory, 70, who's headed the choir since 1997, was "a tower of strength" and praised her 19-year-contribution to music in Canberra and the high standard of performance she had maintained with the Woden Valley Youth Choir during that time. Recent activities have included performing as the chorus in Opera Australia's The Marriage of Figaro and Saturday's Voices in the Forest concert.

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Gregory, who came to Canberra with her family in 1985, took over the Woden Valley Youth Choir from Don Whitbread, who founded it in 1969. It started with three choirs but earlier this year was consolidated into two, one for children aged from eight to 11, the other, performing, choir for young people aged 12 to 21.

Gregory said she was honoured by the award. Although she had experienced many memorable moments over the years, "the highlight of all highlights" in her time with the choir was its performance for former South African president Nelson Mandela in 2000 when he received an honorary doctorate of law at the Australian National University. The choir sang the Australian and South African national anthems and Australian composer Stephen Leek's Ngana. It's far from the only Australian work the choir has performed and unlike that one, many have been new pieces.

"One of the highlights for me is nearly every year since I've been artistic director we've commissioned a new piece of music from an Australian composer," Gregory said. Every second year the choir has recorded a CD and many of these pieces have been featured, providing the choristers with a permanent record of their participation.

As well as her work with the youth choir, Gregory has taught at the University of Canberra, run a successful early childhood music education program that she began while living in Armidale; and started two other choirs, the now-defunct Sophisticated Swing for women over 40 and Rhythm Syndicate for 18 to 35-year-olds.

She intended to retire from the choir shortly and was in the process of seeking a replacement who could fulfil all the various roles required.

"I'm 70 .. it's time for someone else to take the reins."

Musa said there were 32 Canberra Critics' Circle Awards this year, up from 27 last year, reflecting the quality and diversity of the arts in Canberra in 2016. Among the highlights, she said, were the Canberra-made film Joe Cinque's Consolation and the diverse body of work of poet Geoff Page.

The 2016 Canberra Critics' Circle's Awards went to: dancer-choreographers Alison Plevey and Liz Lea; visual artists Avi Amesbury, Emma Beer, Denise Higgins & Gary Smith, Michael Taylor, and Judi Elliott; writers Josh Inman, Geoff Page, Niloofar Kanaiyan, Kaaron Warren, Zoya Patel and Robert Macklin; the makers of the film Joe Cinque's Consolation; musical theatre artists David Cannell, Lucy Matthews, Alexander Clubb, Kelda McManus, Canberra Philharmonic Society and Vanessa de Jaeger; theatre artists Pigeonhole Theatre, Katie Cawthorne, Dick Goldberg, Jenna Roberts, PJ Williams and Chenoeh Miller; and musicians Michael Sollis, Barbara Jane Gilby, Gary France, Leonard Weiss, Alpha Gregory and The Young Docteurs​.

Ron Cerabona is an arts reporter for The Canberra Times.

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