Denis Donnelly

Based in Victoria, BC, Denis is an experienced and multi-talented musician whose love affair with music has taken him in many creative directions over the years, as a singer, instrumentalist, arranger, composer, and conductor. For the past 20 years his main focus has been on choral music, for which he has drawn upon his diverse background with different genres and traditions, from folk to classical, and from Medieval to contemporary, as well as a life-long study of poetry, for inspiration and repertoire.

Denis Donnelly photo by Andrew Kielbowicz
Photo by: Andrew Kielbowicz

Denis developed his skills on piano and guitar at an early age, and became deeply involved in the folk music scene during the 1960’s, where he discovered his passion for singing in harmony. However, it was his participation in his high school choir, under the direction of Jim Johnson (a BC Choral Federation Herbert Drost award recipient in 2003) that was the pivotal experience in his life. He went on to graduate from the University of Victoria with a Bachelor of Music degree. Following graduation Denis went on to work at the Victoria Conservatory of Music, becoming its Director in 1985. After overseeing the Conservatory’s purchase, renovation, and move to its current home in the former Metropolitan United Church in 1999, he left to pursue his own musical interests.

Over the years Denis has been very active in Victoria’s music community. He was one of the founders of the Victoria Folk Music Society, which he has continued to support for the past forty years. Denis has also had a 20 year musical partnership with flutist Lanny Pollet, combining Celtic harp and guitar with Lanny’s flutes and recorders. They continue to perform several times a year and have produced two popular CDs of their collected music.

Denis is also kept busy as a workshop leader and clinician. His vocal workshops have introduced hundreds of people, many of whom considered themselves non-singers, to the joys of singing in harmony with others. He works with established choirs and vocal groups, as well, who wish to enhance their skills and repertoire. He has had the privilege of accompanying poet David Whyte on many of his tours to Ireland, where he enlivened the groups with singing and music. Also active as a poet with a life-long study of the tradition, Denis leads workshops and has taught several courses on poetry at Royal Roads University.

From 1999 to 2018 he was the arranger, as well as co-director with Siobhan Robinsong, of the 300-voice Gettin’ Higher Choir, a non-auditioned, community choir. He has also been their main accompanist, playing guitar, piano, or Celtic harp, for pieces requiring instrumental back-up. In 2005, Denis and Siobhan developed the annual and highly successful Community Choir Leadership Training program, which has led to the creation of the UBUNTU Choirs Network (50+ and growing), a network of non-auditioned, community-based, and socially responsible choirs and singing groups all over North America, all based on the principles of inclusivity and joyful community singing.

In 2001, Denis founded the auditioned 26-voice ensemble Soundings in order to explore a highly eclectic mix of choral music from many genres and traditions more suitable for a small group. He weaves a variety of traditional and lesser known choral works with his own arrangements and compositions to craft programs that are both innovative and entertaining, and which give Soundings a distinctive place in the Victoria vocal community.

Denis and Siobhan retired from the leadership of the Gettin’ Higher Choir in 2018, apssing the leadership on to two graduates of the CCLT program, Cathy Baker and Dick Jackson. Denis then formed Wavelengths Community Choir, with a membership of close to 200 singers. Wavelengths rehearses on the Saanich Peninsula and performs at the Mary Winspear Centre in Sidney.

In June of 2010, Denis was the recipient of the Herbert Drost Award, presented by the British Columbia Choral Federation, “in recognition of his work, dedication and contributions which have provided positive long-term effects on the British Columbia choral community”. He was also awarded a Victoria Community Leadership Award, and in May or 2018 was installed as an Honorary Citizen of Victoria by the Mayor and Council.

You can find out more about Denis by exploring these web sites: