Suite Sixteen was founded in 1993 when Ursula Schraa was asked to find guest artists to perform with Rotorua Brass Band for a short season at Casa Blanca Theatre. The concert was titled “Springbeat – Brass With Class”.
All of the usual soloists were otherwise engaged, so Ursula rounded up 16 singers who had sung with Rotorua Musical Theatre or Rotorua District Choir. A quick 6 weeks rehearsal (3 times a week) and the group were ready to take to the boards. The first piece was The Wedding March from “The Sound of Music”, accompanied by the band. Other pieces were accompanied by Gloria Taylor on the piano with music from “Finian’s Rainbow”, A Beatles number and an A Cappella – “Animals.”
Following this concert, we were approached by Ian Edward and asked to enter the choral section of Rotorua Competition Society. This was to make up the numbers because only one other choir (Rotorua District choir) had entered! We were at a slight disadvantage as there was a set piece for four-part mixed voices which we could not sing being all females!!!! So we sang our two pieces, Necessity and Animals. It was quite a delightful experience – and we did come 3rd out of 2 with some good remarks from the judge!!
In 1995 Rotorua Musical Theatre celebrated its 50th anniversary and again Ursula was charged with finding items for the grand dinner to be held as part of the weekend celebrations. Alongside other guest artists, including Evelyn Falconer and Norma Le Lelievre, the group was pulled together again. This time we added the smoochy “Mr Sandman’ and a do-bop version of Mozart’s “Menuetto” to the repertoire and ended with “Animals”. The Barry Smith Quintet accompanied this evening.
From here onwards it was agreed amongst the group that they would come together for various occasions on an As-is-Where-is basis. So the next few years saw Suite Sixteen perform at such places as The Womens Club, for a Christmas dinner; A festival celebrating all ages, at the Rotorua Sportsdrome; Rotorua Travel Club; The first production of Lakeside 98 on the Domain;and at the Lockwood Aria – in the choral division where, although we were the only group performing, we were awarded 95 points for each of the numbers we sang, the Australian Judge, John Woods added Bravo Tutti (well done all) to our certificate; and at three weddings.
One of the three weddings was of Jan and Merv Beets at St Lukes Church in Rotorua. It was a fully choral service. We greeted the bride at the door with the Wedding March from The Sound of Music while Bill Power the organist played the organ interlude without voices as she came down the aisle to meet Merv. Then as they went to the altar together we continued with the Alleluia section of the piece. We were then the choir for the rest of the ceremony.
In December 2000 the theatre was without a show for the Christmas period which provided a wonderful opportunity to produce a Christmas Carol concert for the public of Rotorua. Using Suite Sixteen as the basis for a choir we co-opted some more women and 12 men and gave two concerts in the Convention Centre’s Concert Hall. We invited Little Theatre to present a staged version of T.S.Eliot’s poem “The Journey of the Magi” and John Emmanuel delighted the audience as he donned his peaked cap,sat in an arm chair and read “Chistmas in Wales” by Dylan Thomas – with a genuine Welsh Accent. There were two performances, both packed to over flowing.
2001 saw the sixteen again appearing as guests with Grant Burns’s Symphonic Band for “Stage and Screen Spectacular”. We again co-opted some men and were superbly accompanied this time by Jim McGregor.
Written by Ursula Schraa, Archivist