2010 Local Heroes: Joy Bell
Click here to read the profiles of our other Local Heroes for 2010. Keep singing! By Jeff Rollings, Photography by Pete Paterson Joy Bell wants it known that she hates…
By Jeff Rollings, Photography by Pete Paterson
Joy Bell wants it known that she hates electronic musical keyboards.
Recently retired after sixteen years as a director and pianist for the Theatre Orangeville Youth Singers – or T.O.Y.S. – choir, Joy says the worst disaster of her career came about because of just such an instrument.
Joy’s talents as a musician and her love of children have given her both a career and a life passion. When she started working as an eighteen-year-old elementary-school teacher in 1960, her principal discovered Joy could play piano. He immediately appointed her director of the school’s music program. She has been bringing together people and music ever since.
Joy moved to Orangeville in 1969, taking a break from teaching to raise her own three children. She came back to it in 1980, first in Orangeville and later in East Garafraxa. “No matter what school I was in, I always did all the music,” she says.
In 1994, Jim Betts, artistic director of the newly formed Theatre Orangeville, happened to be in the audience when Joy directed and played for a school production of The Sound of Music. Impressed with Joy’s work, he invited her to start a choir. T.O.Y.S. – Joy came up with the name – was born.
“It evolved,” Joy says, “By the second year we had a decent group.” The choir did a demo tape and sub-mitted it to a competition to perform in Toronto’s 1995 production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, starring Donny Osmond. Out of 300 entries, T.O.Y.S. was selected as one of four choirs to perform in the show. T.O.Y.S. spent six weeks training for Joseph, and then three months doing four shows a week. “Sometimes we wouldn’t get home until 2 a.m.,” Joy recalls of the exhilarating and exhausting adventure.
The highlights kept coming. There have been television appearances and a performance for the Queen. More recently, T.O.Y.S. performed at Orangeville’s Olympic Torch Relay ceremonies. “We’ve had some good breaks,” Joy says modestly. Her own talent has been recognized too, including the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal in 2003, and the Paul Harris Rotary Club Award in 2010.
Still, after all those years, Joy felt it was time for a change. When fellow directors Joan Borden and Susan Cooper decided to retire this past spring, Joy joined them. “My daughter had a baby out in B.C. and the work didn’t allow me the freedom to visit,” she explains. But she won’t be giving up music. She still teaches private lessons and otherwise says she’s “waiting for another door to open.”
Oh, and the disaster? The choir was in mid-performance, Joy and her electronic keyboard up front. “I’m playing piano, and in the middle of the song I accidentally hit the ‘organ’ button,” she says. “The choir all looked at me, so I motioned to keep singing, keep singing. I’m still playing, desperately looking for the button to switch it back. I think I’ve spotted it, and push it. Instead, all by itself, the keyboard starts playing some piece of classical music. Beethoven or something. It had nothing to do with the performance.”
Panicked, still motioning for the choir to keep singing, Joy says, “I finally shut the thing off, turned it back on and caught up. They were still singing, though.”