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Singing for camaraderie: Victoria mens choir celebrates 35 years
Two men with music on their minds settle into a small Victoria studio, chatting readily about their choir’s upcoming season finale.
The congeniality is obvious when a third comes through the door.
“Frankie – as in Avalon,” Jim Johnson greets Frank Peters as the 25-year veteran of the group, settles into the couch.
The greeting highlights what Johnson, president of the Victoria Male Voice Choir, was previously saying – it’s about camaraderie as much as song.
“It’s like we’re a big family. There’s a sense of community with all these guys.”
‘These guys’ are about 20 men who rehearse out of Esquimalt United Church on Admirals Road, they perform six or eight times a year in seniors’ residences, hold a Christmas fundraising concert, then wind up with a finale concert. This year the men celebrate 35 years of songs with Bringing us Together, on June 14 in the Cordova Bay United Church.
“We’ve done everything from the Empress Hotel to McPherson,” says Johnson, proud of prior performance venues.
The diversity of their playlist, or repertoire, is part of what closes the generational gaps.
Though down to about half the numbers of their crew in the 1990s, the youngest singer is in his mid-20s and the oldest – well many hang around to roughly 90.
Johnson, president of the choir, credits musical director Yanik Giroux with providing a “flexible and entertaining” environment for keeping the guys’ interest.
“At least half of them have been there since I started … there’s a core,” says Giroux, an 11-year veteran with the men’s choir.
“It’s about balance,” he adds. “They meet every week. At 7 p.m. I have to tell them to shut up and get to work. The social aspect is always a big one.”
Then there’s the repertoire. The traditional selections of English wartime songs, sea shanties and four-part harmonies aren’t necessarily alluring for the younger singers. But they have a few that the older members love to perform.
So they balance, programs like this year’s finale spans a spectrum that includes A Joyful Motzart Canon and Elton’ John’s Can You Feel the Love Tonight (remember The Lion King?).
But year after year guys like Peters hang in, or return as Johnson did after a stint away, because of the friendships formed.
“Camaraderie and for the health of my lungs,” Peters says.
Between posture, presentation, learning music and lyrics, it’s a good workout. But the biggest achievement is when a catatonic senior starts a slow and slight tap of the foot to a tune, or when a gaggle of elders move their lips to the words, and on occasion sing along.
“It’s the satisfaction of the people you’re singing for,” Peters says, “the smiles you get form the seniors.”
There’s likely to be some toe tapping as they take the stage for 35 Years of Songs Bring us Together on June 14 at Cordova Bay United Church, 813 Claremont Ave. at 7 p.m.
Email info@victoriamale voicechoir.com or call 250-727-9904. Visit victoriamalevoicechoir.com to learn more about the group.