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Beloved director of Korah Musical Theatre announces retirement — with a song

'It's time': Denine Williams taught orchestra, vocalists for 35 years, building the high school's musical theatre productions into must-see annual events
Denine Williams, Korah Collegiate music teacher and Korah Musical Theatre director, Nov. 25, 2022.

After 35 years as a music teacher and Korah Musical Theatre’s director, Denine Williams has decided to leave that role. 

She announced her retirement to Korah Collegiate staff during a professional activity day April 19.

“I actually announced it through a song,” Williams laughed during an interview with SooToday.

“I changed the words to I Have a Dream from Mamma Mia! I thought about how I was going to announce it to the staff so I thought I’ll just the change the words and sing it. I don’t think anyone saw it coming in that way.”

Williams said the decision to retire was difficult but the time is right.

“After 35 years it’s probably a good time to retire. During class you’re full at it with 75 minutes of instrumental music and vocals, and with the musicals I worked a lot of weekends. Your body starts saying ‘it’s time.’ My mind tells me I can keep going but my body says ‘no you can’t keep going at that pace.’ These shows are huge, and there’s the regular teaching day, the concert band, the Korahsters Choir. It’s a lot of work.” 

Williams said she could have retired in 2021 but felt she had a duty to continue as Korah Musical Theatre’s director for a while longer.

“I didn’t want to retire during COVID. I wanted to do a few more shows with the kids and keep the program going. During COVID music really suffered because we weren’t allowed to sing and play. A lot of programs in schools across Ontario collapsed and I wasn’t going to let that happen here,” Williams said.

Williams kept working and produced Frozen Jr. at Korah in 2022, Into the Woods in 2023 and, in February 2024, Mamma Mia! 

Born in Western Canada, Williams moved to Mississauga, Ontario and earned her Bachelor of Music Education degree at Western University in London before moving north to work as a music teacher at Korah. 

“The talent in the Sault is unbelievable. When I moved here I saw the Musical Comedy Guild shows and the talent here at Korah, so I started doing musicals at the school when I heard the kids singing.”

Korah Musical Theatre had a soft launch but the program quickly grew.

“When I heard the singing at Korah I said ‘let’s do a musical.’ We just did a little snippet of Grease in May of 1990. Director Bob Cooper said he would direct the acting if I directed the music and we did a full production of Grease the next year. The year after that we did Guys and Dolls with director Dennis Esposti. I had some amazing mentors. Then we did Little Shop of Horrors and I thought it’s amazing to do these shows.”

Under Williams’ direction, Korah Musical Theatre productions became locally popular annual events.

The Korahsters choir sings at retirement homes and Sault College convocations.

Over the years, many of Williams’ students went on to achieve fame, including opera singers Joni Henson and Evan Korbut and country music star Crystal Shawanda.

Her own son Evan Williams played violin at Korah and became a professionally trained vocalist, recently earning his Master's degree in Performance at Western.

“It hasn’t been like a job at all. It’s been a passion. That’s why it was difficult to make the decision to retire,” Williams said of her career at Korah.

“It’s like leaving a home you’ve known for 35 years. I love watching students grow through learning music. It helps them become who they are later on. I keep in touch with some of them and they’ll say thanks for that musical theatre opportunity, or thanks for the choir or the band.”

In addition to working with the orchestra and singers during regular school days, rehearsals for Korah Musical Theatre productions took up much of Williams’ time on evenings and weekends.        

“I wouldn't have been able to do the many years of productions without the support of my husband Dean and family. When the kids were young he was there to help on weekends when I was at the school and he also was my go-to guy for building for the shows. He built several sets for our productions over the years right from the early 90s. I’ve had wonderful administrators over the years as well who have supported the music program at Korah and helped me to be able to grow and sustain it,” Williams said.

She said that Korah Musical Theatre attracted a variety of students to its productions.  

“What I saw it do was pull the school together. I tried to bring other areas of the school in, people from across the curriculum, people to help with the productions, and it just kept growing. I saw some kids on stage you would not expect to be up there. What musical theatre does is pull everyone together. There were the athletes, the techie kids helping with the lighting and then they’d end up on stage when they saw what fun it was. You see their passions coming out. I told them it was just part of their high school education but what I saw come out of it in the long run was kids that were able to speak in public and gain self confidence at college, university and the work world.”

As she looks back on a long list of Korah Musical Theatre productions she directed, does Williams have a favourite?

“I loved Guys and Dolls, and Phantom of the Opera in 2015 was a highlight of my career. It was unbelievable. Everyone was dumbfounded by how good the kids were on stage. This year Mamma Mia! was at that same level. After Mamma Mia! I thought ‘okay that’s another highlight, I’ll retire this year.’”

After retirement from Korah, Williams will be working with choirs at the Algoma Conservatory of Music.

“I know I couldn’t give up on teaching and music. It’ll be at a slower pace but still busy.”

Williams said she is looking forward to a retirement party being planned for her, to be held June 28 at The Machine Shop.

There will be dinner, speeches and - of course - some singing.

“I can’t leave without some people performing,” she said with a chuckle.

Before the current school year ends, Williams will be producing a few more concerts with her musicians and vocalists, including:

  • Mamma Mia in Concert with the Korahsters, solos and duets, May 9. Show time 7 p.m., doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are available through the SCTC box office and at the door the night of the show. Adults $20, students $10, 12 and under free
  • Broadway Bound Spring Concert, May 14. Show time 7 p.m., doors open at 6:30 p.m. at the Algoma Conservatory of Music in The Loft. Tickets $10 at the door or online through the Conservatory.
  • Korah Spring Concert, May 21. Show time 7 p.m., doors open at 6:30 p.m., ticket prices for adults $10, students and children $5

The Korahsters will also be performing at Sault College Convocations June 6 and 7.

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Darren Taylor

About the Author: Darren Taylor

Darren Taylor is a news reporter and photographer in Sault Ste Marie. He regularly covers community events, political announcements and numerous board meetings. With a background in broadcast journalism, Darren has worked in the media since 1996.
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