Choirs Ontario (previously known as the Ontario Choral Federation). Organization established in 1971 to promote choral activities in Ontario, with an elected voluntary board, a paid executive secretary, and offices in Toronto. In 1969 the Ontario Arts Council (then POCA), at the initiative of its music officer Robert Sunter, commissioned Keith Bissell and Ezra Schabas to prepare the report Choral Music in Ontario (Toronto 1970). A choral conference in Sudbury, followed by a second conference in May 1970 in Guelph, resulted in several recommendations: that a choral federation and, through a summer camp for young people, an Ontario Youth Choir be formed; that regional choral festivals and workshops be developed; and that choral music be promoted through information services and financial assistance.
Chartered in 1971 and funded largely by the Ministry of Culture, the Ontario Arts Council, the Trillium Foundation, and the Toronto Arts Council, Choirs Ontario draws its membership from individuals, choirs, corporations, boards of education, universities, schools of music, and other choral associations. In 2004, membership included over 300 choirs and 400 individuals.
Choirs in Contact, held 1971-90, became an annual three-day festival of concerts and workshops for member choirs, often featuring guest choirs and conductors of international reputation. Workshop clinicians and guest conductors have included John Alldis, John Barron, Lloyd Bradshaw, Melville Cook, Eric Ericson, Helmuth Froschauer, Derek Holman, Elmer Iseler, Deral Johnson, Brian Law, Norman Luboff, Vladamir Minin, François Provencher, Helmuth Rilling, Robert Shaw, Sir David Willcocks, Margaret Hillis, and Jon Washburn.
Choirs Ontario administers the Ontario Youth Choir (OYC) and sponsors workshops for choristers and conductors. In the past, the organization has offered educational programs geared towards young people including the Teen Choir Camp and the Junior Choir Camp, both of which were held last in 2003. In celebration of its 30th anniversary in 2001, Choirs Ontario inaugurated the President's Leadership Award to recognize outstanding performers, conductors and avid supporters of choral music in Ontario. The organization also administers the Ruth Watson Henderson Choral Composition Competition, and the Leslie Bell Prize for choral conducting.
In the past, Choirs Ontario has commissioned Canadians to compose test pieces for the Leslie Bell competition. It has also hosted such events as KAGGIK '85, and Voice Auditions, a showcase for emerging and established vocal artists that was held in 1985, 1986, and 1991. As part of the 1989 International Choral Festival, the organization helped to sponsor the Festival in the Community program, which took 38 choirs into communities in and around Toronto during the month of the festival.
Choirs Ontario operates a music lending service that includes a specialized children's choir reference library. The organization makes several publications available to its members, including pronunciation guides, "how-to" guides about the general management of choirs, a discography including information on compact discs recorded by member choirs, Calendar of Events, and Dynamic, a newsletter that informs members of news in the choral community. Choirs Ontario has also produced a guide pertaining to children's choirs in Ontario entitled A Children's Choir Handbook, and Swift Stream of Song, a publication about the history of the organization and its impact on choral life in Ontario.