Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Community-Building in Hamilton Since 1977: The Canadian Orpheus Male Choir

by Shiona Mackenzie

When Keith Thomas first encountered the Canadian Orpheus Male Choir (COMC) in 1987, they had already enjoyed a decade of successful concerts and had recently embarked upon international concert tours. Keith had never sung outside of church before. But a colleague invited Keith to drop in on a rehearsal and meet his buddies – the “men who love to sing” – all from the Greater Hamilton Area, who gathered weekly to contribute their skills, experiences and passion to a common cause.

COMC members backstage at Hamilton Place, 2011
Photo: Shiona Mackenzie

“After sitting in the bass section for about four rehearsals and socializing with the guys, I was asked to sing in front of the Music Director to confirm my vocal range,” Keith says.

“I sang up and down a few scales and was placed in the baritones. Believe me, I would have sung tenor if they’d asked me to, I was that happy to join!”

Listening to the COMC today, you’ll notice their beautiful harmonies and the genuine pleasure that shines through their delivery of a diverse repertoire, ranging from folk songs like “Red River Valley” to jazz numbers such as “Ain’t Misbehavin’”, to rousing gospel numbers like “Ride the Chariot”, and hits from popular musicals including “Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables.

Membership in the COMC allows local men of all ages and backgrounds to make friends, have fun and give back to the community all at once. They frequently do concerts for charities such as the Hamilton Spectator Summer Camp Fund, the Canadian Cancer Society, and the Heart and Stroke Foundation. Service groups and churches have also benefited. A registered charity, the COMC has raised and donated almost $800,000 to date.

In addition to singing in and around Hamilton, they have performed in such grand venues as Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto, the National Arts Centre, Ottawa, and the Royal Albert Hall in London, England.

There’s no wonder the COMC is internationally respected. They consistently select accomplished musical leaders to guide them. Their current Music Director, Andre Rakus, OCT, BA, RN, B.Ed, LTCL, is an organ virtuoso with more than 20 years of experience directing choral singers.

Talented pianists, Krista Rhodes, B.Mus, B.Ed, Ian Green, B.Mus, ARCT, accompany the COMC.

Krista teaches a full roster of music students, but also performs, writes, and records music in her Ancaster home studio. Ian is Music Director and Organist at Ryerson United Church in Ancaster, and he runs “Music By Ian Green”, teaching piano to students of all ages.

Ian says scientific research on the physical, emotional, and mental perks for choral singers proves music is good for the mind.

“There can be improvements in problem solving, memory and social skills that lead to a better quality of life. Not only do these singers relish the challenge of learning new music, but they also cultivate a camaraderie that crosses cultural and geographic boundaries.

“The COMC brings an uplifting musical experience to audiences from Oakville to St. Catharines and beyond.”

Keith, during his 26 years with the COMC, took on the role of Concert Secretary. He regularly criss-crosses Hamilton, meeting people and booking COMC concerts to help local groups achieve their fundraising goals.

“A few highlights for me have been performing for the Toronto Star Fresh Air Fund in 1991, our Trenton show in 2005, and singing along with 600 male voice choristers from around the world in London’s Royal Festival Hall at the pre-Olympic Games ceremonies in 2012.

“Last year, the Choirfest we hosted in Burlington was exciting. We strutted our stuff and, in turn, heard what some other singing groups in the region are up to. This year, we’re holding it in October, in Oakville.

“Making a difference is deeply gratifying,” says Keith. “Without the COMC, I would not have realized my dream of entertaining and helping others. The group is always open to new members, and you don’t have to be able to read music because there is a web page providing music tracks to make our songs easier to learn. So, luckily for me, just about any guy can join.”

The COMC will hold their 38th Annual Concert at
7:30 p.m. on May 10 at Peoples Church on Mohawk Rd. West. Tickets are $20 each

For more information about the COMC, email orpheus@bell.net, call Membership Director John Kennedy at 905-549-2426, or visit www.comc.ca.

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