Choir mixes music with generosity

There’s nothing quite as moving as the sound of a hundred male voices gathered in song. And no group demonstrates that better than the Canadian Orpheus Male Choir.

The choral group, which many say is Hamilton’s best-kept secret, is the creation of director Lyn Harry, who started the ensemble in 1977 when he and seven men gathered in a small room to begin rehearsing.

At that time, there were several choirs in Hamilton, and some questioned the wisdom of starting yet another. Harry recalls being disappointed initially a the small turnout, “but within three weeks we had 30 members, and the choir has kept growing ever since, ” he says proudly.

This year the Canadian Orpheus Male Choir celebrated its 20th anniversary with a concert on May 2 at Hamilton Place. The annual concert is a tradition with the choir, and so is its generosity — just ask some of the community charities they’ve helped out.

In the last nine years, Harry says, their Christmas concerts have raised more than $35,000 for The Hamilton Spectator’s Sunshine Fund, which sends Hamilton-area children to summer camp. The ensemble’s concerts at Toronto Thompson Hall also raisedore than $50,000 for The Toronto Star‘s Fresh Air Fund for Toronto children. In all, Harry estimates his choir has helped raise more than $400,000 for various charities.

The choir’s popularity springs from two sources: First, the ability of its conductor to mold 110 voices into an instrument of complex, beautiful harmonies; and second, the musical talent of those many members — a shining example of the total being greater than the sum of its parts.

It’s in the blood
Harry is a native of Llanelli, South Wales, and has been involved in music since childhood. He became organist and choir master of his first choir at age 13, and after studying music in London, England, founded the London Welsh Male Choir in 1961. It became the first British choir to tour behind the Iron Curtain. Later, he was the music director of the Morriston Orpheus Male Choir in Swansea, South Wales.

Upon his immigration to Canada, Harry taught at the Royal Hamilton College of Music and initiated the Canadian Orpheus Male Choir.

The men who make up the choir have in their repertoire 260 selections, ranging from spirituals and hymns to folk tunes and popular songs.

Together, they made eight tours of Canada, the U.S.A., Britain and Europe. Although the choir has the support of foundations, local and provincial governments, corporations and private sponsors, choir members pay the bulk of their travelling expenses.

The Canadian Orpheus Male Choir has performed more than 360 concerts since its inception, and has sung with such famous guest singers as Sicilian tenor Aldo Filistad, and musicians such as violinist Martin Beaver, The Canadian Brass and the Canadian Armed Forces Band.

In addition to television appearances in Britain and Canada, the group has also made 10 recordings, the last two — The Rose-Vol.I and Vol. II — in 1996.

The love of music
The choir members represent a broad range of ages, cultural backgrounds and occupations. But what brings them all together is a love of singing and the pleasure of each other’s company.

“Although this is an international choir, it has the feeling of a community choir,” Harry explains. “I’ve never known a choir to be so sociable.” He adds that his group is now looking for new members. “You don’t have to be able to read music to join, but you have to be able to carry a tune.” The continued success of the choir has meant that it is now looking for an executive director who can arrange concert bookings, handle public relations and publicity, arrange financial support and help steer the choir into the next millenium.

To learn more about the Canadian Male Orpheus Choir — where to get tickets, how to join or offer support — call C.M.O.C. President Hugh Johnson at (905) 335-5382.