The “singing docents” are creating something special at Sarnia’s Judith and Norman Alix Art Gallery.

Docents act as volunteer tour guides at museums and art galleries, and several at the downtown public art gallery have been putting their singing voices to work during a few special events and tours.

“They are a one-of-a-kind group of volunteers,” said curator-director Lisa Daniels.

Saturday, visitors who signed up for a 1:30 p.m. guided tour of the current exhibition, Witness: Canadian Art of the First World War, will be treated to several songs of that era sung by docents Dianne Moore, Janet Leonard and Brenda Bandy.

“It’s quite special,” Daniels said.

“People are pretty impressed when they hear about this group.”

Saturday’s tour with songs is set to be repeated Dec. 2.

The tours are free, but spots are limited so registering ahead of time is recommended.

The idea for integrating songs into tours came from the docents themselves, Daniels said.

“These guys just got together and love to sing, and love art.”

Moore said it began when the gallery hosted a travelling exhibition from the Beaverbrook collection and a few of them were asked to lead a tour on the theme of love stories from the collection.

“When we were planning it, it just felt right to singing a song at the end,” she said.

They sang That’s the Glory of Love, and the audience loved it, Moore said.

“It just seemed to move people.”

Moore and Bandy sing in choirs and Leonard has been involved in musical theatre.

A fourth member of the informal group, Mary Groombridge, wasn’t able to take part in the latest musical tour, Moore said.

After that initial response to their singing, the group added songs to a tour of a show of work by artist York Wilson, as well as the current show.

“With World War One being a singing war, it just fit so perfectly,” Moore said.

Soldiers faced with “dreadful” conditions sang to get through the horrors of war, and their families missing them at home also sang, she said.

So, the group had no trouble finding six songs that fit paintings in the exhibition on tour from the Canadian War Museum.

“Art, it evokes such emotion that music just seems to play into that emotion, too,” Moore said.

Audiences on the tours are often initially surprised when the docents begin to sing, she said.

“And then they join in because I believe everybody has music within them wanting to come out.”

For the current tour, they’ve prepared song sheets to encourage the public to sing along.

The gallery has approximately 40 active docents among its 70 volunteers.

“They’re very committed to the gallery,” Daniels said.

“They come to training sessions on a monthly basis, they do research on their own time” to learn about exhibitions and prepare for tours, she said.

“They really enrich the gallery experience for the public.”

As well as offering something unique at the art gallery, the singing docents are just “great fun,” Daniels said.

“They’re trying to inspire curiosity and make new connections for members of the community with art, and it’s wonderful.”

Witness: Canadian Art of the First World War runs through Jan. 7.

The gallery is also offering a special presentation, Songs of War, on Nov. 9, 7 p.m., with Sara Karn, a graduate student researching music on the home front in Canada during the First World War.

Information about tours and special gallery events is available online at jnaag.ca, and by calling the gallery at 519-336-8127, ext. 3226.

By Paul Morden, Sarnia Observer

Original Article