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Sage added spice to musical life in Chemainus

Much-loved keyboardist provided masterful direction and accompaniment to choirs
Ola Sage was much-loved as a person and for her ongoing musical contributions at the Chemainus 55+ Activity Centre. (File photo by Don Bodger)

Ola Sage is being remembered as a much-loved person and for the contributions she made to the community through her music.

She died Aug. 5 at the age of 84.

Sage worked as a music teacher in Calgary for many years before she and husband Jerry moved to Chemainus. Sage sang in the mixed choir for several years before offering to accompany the group around 2010, noted Hugh Morrison, who worked closely with her in music direction at the Chemainus 55+ Activity Centre.

He added Sage also started the women’s choir, The Centre Belles, around that time, which she both led and accompanied until 2019. Sage started accompanying the men’s choir, The Gentlemen Songsters, around that time as well and continued until the COVID pandemic closed everything down in the spring of 2020.

“She was an incredibly talented musician and could not only play what was printed but had a wonderful ability to improvise by ear, including filling in an accompaniment from just a melody line,” noted Morrison. “She could often transpose a song to a different key if the song was written in a key not appropriate for the singing group.

“Ola also had a very keen ear for whether choir members were singing the correct notes or staying in tune. On not just a few occasions, I would be rehearsing and conducting a piece for the men’s choir and singing along and she would suddenly stop playing and wait for us to straggle to a stop. From the piano bench came a tentative voice: ‘If I could make a little suggestion.’ Now, Ola’s timid voice had a vast musical knowledge and authority behind it and just like the TV ad: ‘When Ola spoke, everyone listened.’”

Morrison added Sage had a wonderful loving and caring personality. “She was always noticing if someone was absent and inquiring if they were unwell. And from her perch on the piano bench it gave her great joy and pleasure to see the enjoyment that singing and music could bring to audiences, especially those who lived more sheltered lives at long term care facilities.”

Morrison cited several amusing moments involving memory lapses as the years marched on.

“Ola occasionally forgot either her hearing aids or reading glasses when she got to rehearsals. Sometimes she would zip home in her little blue car to retrieve the errant item; sometimes she would just carry on regardless and play the pieces from memory.”

Sage’s loves included a wee dram or two, as Morrison put it, of Bailey’s Irish Cream as part of her morning regime and the men’s choir would often replenish her supply of the ‘medicinal elixir’ as a Christmas gift.

Sage also loved being a granny. She was very proud of her three granddaughters – Sophie, Claire and Mia – and always willing to share stories about them and their accomplishments at school or in the swimming pool, etc. Whenever they came to stay she would proudly introduce them to the choirs when they came to watch her at work.

“Ola’s contributions to the musical life of the Chemainus Seniors Centre and the wider community are significant and numerous,” Morrison indicated. “As well as weekly rehearsals from September to June since around 2010, she always accompanied both the men’s and women’s choirs for many concerts each year at long term care facilities in Chemainus, Ladysmith and Duncan.

“Annual Christmas and Spring concerts always featured Ola at the keyboard leading and accompanying the two choirs. As well as her choir work, Ola was always very willing to work with and accompany soloists, duets and small groups of singers at special events such as soup and sandwich lunches, Remembrance Day and Robbie Burns Day celebrations at the Legion, and for many of the famous musical revues and shows at the Centre. She was also, of course, the pianist at the St. Joseph’s Catholic Church for many years. Ola’s vivacious and enthusiastic support of and contributions to the musical life of the Chemainus community will be greatly missed.”

As might be expected from playing at many different community facilities, Morrison noted Sage had a few amusing run-ins with some pianos and keyboards.

“The piano at one extended care facility had the disconcerting habit of moving across the floor as one was playing, and on one occasion Ola found herself at a full stretch of all four limbs by the end of a song before being rescued from this predicament. Several bad experiences with electronic keyboards eventually led to her ironclad dictum: ‘I will never play an electronic keyboard again if it does not have a sustain pedal.’”

Anne Morrison added her observations as a long-standing member of the Centre Belles.

“Ola was a radiant woman. She had a sparkling smile that could fill up a room. She embodied ‘grace.’ She was a very kind, humble and thoughtful person. She was always encouraging to choir members and had the ability to bring out the best in us. She selected beautiful music for us to sing. We all loved her.”

A funeral mass is being held for Sage on Saturday, Sept. 10 at 11 a.m. at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church at 9735 Elm St. in Chemainus.


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Ola Sage in her familiar place at the piano. (File photo by Don Bodger)

Don Bodger

About the Author: Don Bodger

I've been a part of the newspaper industry since 1980 when I began on a part-time basis covering sports for the Ladysmith-Chemainus Chronicle.
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