Toronto Mass Choir

Toronto Mass Choir. A contemporary gospel music ensemble of approximately 30 vocalists and a five-piece band, led by choir director Karen Burke. Her husband, Oswald Burke, is executive producer.

Toronto Mass Choir

Toronto Mass Choir. A contemporary gospel music ensemble of approximately 30 vocalists and a five-piece band, led by choir director Karen Burke. Her husband, Oswald Burke, is executive producer. The Toronto Mass Choir (TMC) was founded by Lisa Brown, Courtney Williams, and Karen and Oswald Burke in 1988 as the result of a large gospel music workshop and recording project organized by the Association of Gospel Music Ministries (AGMM) at its annual gospel music convention. Karen Burke has been TMC's principal conductor since the ensemble's formation; other conductors have included Anne Marie Stern (1988-90), John Watkis (1990-3), Cheryl Nembhardt (1994-6) and Elvis Boddie (1994-present). Various musicians have accompanied TMC over the years; bandleaders have included Brian Harris (1992-4), Lenton Williams (1994-6), Roy Oommen (1997-2002) and Joy Brown (2002-present). TMC has released several albums and a songbook, the highest-selling album being Instrument of Praise.

Since its inception, TMC has performed 20 to 40 times per year at a wide variety of venues, including the Gospel Music Workshop of America in Washington, DC (1990); Atlanta (1994); and Detroit (2002). The choir has toured extensively throughout the Great Lakes corridor of Ontario as well as Pennsylvania (1996, 2003, 2005); Quebec (1998, 2000, 2001, 2007); Michigan (2001); and Alberta (2002). Overseas tours include Barbados and Trinidad in 2000; Italy in 2003; and Hungary, Romania and England in 2005. Christian churches and camps are TMC's most typical venues, but it has also performed at award shows (Golden Note, Covenant and Vibe awards); at music festivals (Toronto's Harbourfront Gospelfest, the Toronto Downtown Jazz Festival, Missionfest, Unite in Worship and La Festival de Musique Sacrée de Saint-Roch); and for radio and television broadcasts, benefit concerts, banquets and Christmas concerts. Regardless of the venue, TMC's vision remains the same: "To create and perform gospel music that will draw all people into the awesome presence of God."

Repertoire and Influences

TMC's music incorporates contemporary and traditional gospel and Caribbean influences. A contemporary gospel sound combining jazz, funk, soul and blues (and occasionally R&B, hip-hop and Latin) elements is TMC's most prominent style. A traditional gospel influence is manifested primarily through the strong Christian devotion expressed in the lyrics and a small number of a cappella arrangements of spirituals. TMC's combination of gospel lyrics with Caribbean music styles (particularly reggae) has resulted in a style unique to Canada.

Awards and Recognition
TMC has won several prestigious music awards. Follow Him was nominated for a Juno Award in 1999. Instrument of Praise garnered four awards: the 2002 Covenant Award for gospel album of the year, and a Vibe Award, a Juno Award, and Gospel Album of the Year by the Urban Music Association of Canada (all 2003). Furthermore, the choir received a Maja award for gospel choir of the year in 2003. The Live Experience won two awards: the 2006 Covenant Award for traditional gospel album of the year and the 2007 Shai Award for urban/soul album of the year.


Further Reading

  • Feyen, Jesse. "'Drawn Into The Awesome Presence of God': The Toronto Mass Choir," MA thesis, York University 2007

    McIntyre, Paul. Black Pentecostal Music in Windsor. Mercury Series 15 (Ottawa 1976)

    Robbins, Vivian. Musical Buxton (Toronto 1970)