Choir director honored with lifetime achievement award

  • Jody Hill Simpson with her youth choir members Aria Frehner, right, Robert Amundsen, Grace Phillips, Claire Laplante and Alanna Batty, as they were graduating from Junior Minstrels. Courtesy photo 

  • —Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Conductor Jody Hill Simpson of Hancock with Junior Minstrels Liam McCall, Alanna Batty and Aria Frehner. Simpson was recently recognized by the Choral Arts of New England with a Lifetime Achievement Award.  —Courtesy photo

  • —Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • —Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • —Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • —Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • —Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Wednesday, August 23, 2017 8:40PM

Music is a conversation. A conversation between the singers and the audience. And between the director and the singers.

“You don’t even have to say a word,” said Jody Hill Simpson, the artistic director of Music on Norway Pond. “You turn your back to the audience, and just hope your outfit looks okay from the back, and go on a thrill ride with the whole group.”

Simpson, who directs the Norway Pond Festival Singers and the Junior Minstrels in Hancock, has been recognized as this year’s recipient of the Choral Arts of New England Lifetime Achievement Award. Simpson has been a member of that board and has helped pick other recipients of the same award. She’s well aware of the company she’s keeping.

“If you’re in my field, it’s like joining this club of really, really, fine conductors, just the best, and it blows me away.”

Simpson fell in love with choral music as a high school student, but didn’t pursue it as a career until a little later in life, after spending a few years in the banking industry, and then pursuing her master’s degree in choral directing.

“I love that it’s direct, right from your body,” said Simpson. “There’s no machine that you go through, you’re just playing your own self. I love that part of it.”

She started several choral groups, but her greatest success came with her youth choir, PALS Children’s Chorus (now known as VOICES Boston). The chorus has been a collaborator with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Boston Pops, Boston Lyric Opera, Boston Early Music Festival, and performed with high profile artists including Yo Yo Ma, Nathan Lane and Celine Dion.

In 2006, Simpson moved to Hancock, and stepped away from PALS, and started Music on Norway Pond, which includes an adult women’s chorus (which adds men for their annual winter performances) and an non-auditioned children’s choir.

There’s something special about working with children, particularly, said Simpson.

“It’s very different,” she said. “Kids can follow music, and some can read music, but often they just listen, and they absorb it through their ears and don’t think about it being difficult.”

Children come smarter to every rehearsal, said Simpson, because they’re at a stage where their brains are still growing. With adults, it’s often harder to get them to “let go” and sing without looking down at their scores. 

And in children, it’s easy to foster a love of music.

“It’s a tragedy whenever you run into someone whose teacher told them to mouth the words and they’ve never sung a word, since,” she said. “I’ve gotten a reputation that I can teach anyone to sing. Anyone that wants can learn to sing.”

That reputation can be troublesome, sometimes, she admitted. She intended that Music on Norway Pond to be less intensive than her experience with PALS, she said, but her Junior Minstrels group has been growing in talent, and last year, performed with the Boston Symphony singing Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana

“They’re starting to get better and more experienced – almost beyond what I was wanting,” she said. 

But drawing out that talent is part of what makes her special as a director, said Nina Pollock, board president of Music on Norway Pond.

“Those of us who have worked with Jody have always known she is an extraordinary director and conductor, so we are so very pleased that CANE has recognized all that she has accomplished with this prestigious award,” wrote Pollock in a press release issued from Norway Pond.

And though this is a Lifetime Achievement Award, Simpson said she’s far from through with music. 

“I can’t imagine not doing music,” she said. “I’m at my very best when I’m teaching or conducting. I’m good at it and I love it, and I’ll do it in some shape or form until I’m unable to, physically or mentally.”

CANE will present Simpson with her award on Oct. 22 in Boston from 3-5 p.m., with the venue to be announced.


Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.