Choral Singing and Choirs | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Choral Singing and Choirs

Canada's choirs have contributed significantly to religious, educational, and concert activities within the country, and some have earned high reputations abroad. Choral singing in Canada became immensely popular in the second half of the 19th century, reached its first peak -- unsurpassed, certainly, in the quantity of choristers relative to the total population -- in the years preceding the First World War, and entered a new period of vigour and expansion after the middle of the 20th century.

Types of Choirs in Canada

From the turn of the 20th century until the onset of the "television era" after World War II, voluntary church choirs were the centres of regular musical activity in innumerable towns and small cities of Canada, and many of the larger cities' concert choirs in the 19th and early 20th centuries were extensions or amalgamations of church choirs, favouring names such as "philharmonic society" or "choral union" (often prefaced by the name of the city) or commemorating one of the great composers. These large-scale choirs strove to master the choral-orchestral literature, especially oratorios and cantatas. Other choral groups, such as the Montagnards in Montreal, had their roots in the love of operatic and folk music. Still others made a specialty of unaccompanied music (eg, the Mendelssohn Choir of Montreal, though it also sang accompanied works) or were made up entirely of male voices (eg, the Arion Male Voice Choir of Victoria, the Winnipeg Male Voice Choir).

Church and school choirs remained the most numerous, but other types came into prominence in the mid-20th century: the female choir (eg, the Leslie Bell Singers), the folk or ethnic choir (eg, the Toronto Jewish Folk Choir, the Jeunes Chanteurs d'Acadie), the working men's choir (eg, the Dofasco Male Chorus, the Men of the Deeps), the small studio ensemble for broadcast performance (eg, the Choristers, the Carl Tapscott Singers), the barbershop quartet and its female counterpart, the Sweet Adelines, and many others.

While most have remained amateur, a few choirs are or were professional, in the sense that their members earn a basic livelihood from choral singing; the first of these was the Festival Singers in 1968, followed by the Vancouver Chamber Choir, the Elmer Iseler Singers, the Elora Festival Singers, Pro Coro Canada, the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir, the Nathaniel Dett Chorale and musica intima.

Elmer Iseler Singers

International Travels

Visits by choirs to other countries began about the turn of the 20th century - the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir first visited the USA in 1905 - and have continued. Many have expanded into tours, not only of the USA but of Europe, Japan, and other parts of the world. Some of the touring choirs have participated in competitions and festivals (eg, the Eisteddfods in Wales and England), and others have made a specialty of concert appearances, notably the Elgar Choir of British Columbia, the Winnipeg Male Voice Choir, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, the Disciples de Massenet, the Montreal Bach Choir, the Montreal Elgar Choir, the Elmer Iseler Singers, the Tudor Singers of Montreal, the Cantata Singers of Ottawa, the Vancouver Bach Choir, and the Vancouver Chamber Choir.

Associations, Festivals, Competitions

Important associations of choirs (and their dates of founding) are: Choirs Ontario (1999, preceded by the Ontario Choral Federation 1971; the Alberta Choral Federation (1972); l'Alliance des chorales du Québec (1974, related to l'Alliance chorale canadienne 1966-82 and temporarily supplanted by À Coeur Joie Canada starting in 1983); the Nova Scotia Choral Federation (1975); the Manitoba Choral Association (1976); the Saskatchewan and the British Columbia choral federations (1978); the Newfoundland and Labrador Choral Federation (1978-83); and the New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island choral federations (1979). In 1981 the Association of Canadian Choral Conductors/Association des chefs de choeur canadiens (ACCC), a professional organization representing the interests of choral conductors nationally, was formed. An important part of its biennial convention, Podium, is the National Youth Choir, which is made up of selected singers from the provincial choral federations. The ACCC publishes a quarterly periodical entitled Anacrusis.

Bach Elgar Choir

Festivals, Competitions, Gatherings

Important meetings, festivals, and competitions specifically for choirs have included the Cycle of Musical Festivals, the various Sängerfeste, the Kathaumixw International Choral Festival, the annual gatherings of choirs sponsored by provincial choral federations (eg, the British Columbia Chorfest, the Alberta Choralfest, ChoralFest Manitoba, Ontario's Choirs in Contact, and the Festival choral de Montréal); the Choralies internationales canadiennes, organized by the Alliance chorale canadienne then by À Coeur Joie Canada; and the Children's Choirs in Contact. Other significant festivals have been the 4th Rencontre internationale de chant choral, organized by the Communauté des radios publiques de langue française, which took place in Montreal in July 1985; the Joy of Singing International Choral Festivals organized by Nicholas Goldschmidt in Toronto in 1989, 1993, and 2002; the biennial, international, Festival 500: Sharing the Voices, in St. John's, NL, begun in 1997; and Juvenata! A Celebration of Youth and Song, a biannual event hosted in Pictou County, Nova Scotia since 2003.

Competitions include the ACCC's National Competition for Canadian Amateur Choirs (formerly the CBC National Radio Competition for Amateur Choirs/Concours radiophonique national des chorales d'amateurs (see CBC radio competitions and ACCC), established in 1976 and held every two years, and that sponsored by the Federation of Canadian Music Festivals for the George S. Mathieson Trophy, Richard W. Cooke Trophy, Dr and Mrs J.F.K. English Trophy and City of Lincoln Trophy. The Canada Council awards the Healey Willan Prize (annually to 1992 and later every two years) to the amateur choir deemed to be the best or most improved, or that is judged to have made a particularly significant contribution to its community.

Notable Canadian composers of choral music are treated in the entries on Anthems, motets, psalms; Cantatas; Choral composition; Christmas; Easter, Lent, the Passion; Masses; Oratorio composition, Oratorio performance; and Te Deum laudamus. Important choral conductors are mentioned in Conductors and conducting. See also CAMMAC; Choir schools; Competition festivals; Festivals; Hymns and hymn tunes; Oratorio performance (international repertoire); Plainsong; Schola cantorum; Singing schools.

Adult Choirs

The following is a list of representative major Canadian adult choirs, past and present, including some representative church choirs. Some others are noted briefly in the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada entries for cities, countries, and conductors.

Alberta Heartland Chorus
Amadeus Choir of Greater Toronto
Amity Singers of Victoria
Anglican Chorale of Ottawa
Anima Musica
Anne Campbell Singers (see Campbell, Anne)
Arion Male Voice Choir
Armdale Chorus
Association chorale Brassard
Association chorale St-Louis-de-France
Association des chanteurs de Montréal
Bach-Elgar Choir of Hamilton
Border Scottish Choir of Windsor
Brunswick Singers (see Thomson, David)
Calgary Men's Chorus
Calgary Philharmonic Chorus (see Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra)
Camerata Nova
Canadian Centennial Choir (Ottawa)
Canadian National Exhibition Chorus
Cantabile Choirs of Kingston
Cantabile Singers
Cantata Singers of Ottawa
La Cantoria
Cantus Vocum Chamber Choir
Carl Tapscott Singers (see Tapscott, Carl)
Carriden Choir (see Thomson, David)
Chanteurs de Ste-Thérèse
Chanteurs St-Coeur-de-Marie
La Chapelle de Québec (L'Ensemble vocal Bernard-Labadie 1985-91)
Charlottetown Chorale
Choeur Classique de Montréal
Choeur de l'Art Neuf
Choeur de la Cité
Choeur de l'Université Laval
Choeur de Québec
Choeur de Vallon
Choeur Kattialine
Choeur Opus Novum
Choeur Pie X
Choeur V'la l'bon vent
Choir of St. John's, Elora
Chor Leoni Men's Choir
Chorale de l'Université de Moncton
The Choristers
Chorus Niagara
Confederation Choir
Confederation Madrigal Choir
Da Camera Singers (Edmonton)
Da Capo Chamber Choir
Disciples de Massenet
Dofasco Male Chorus
Don Wright Chorus (see Wright, Don)
Donovan Chorale (Montreal)
Elektra Women's Choir (Vancouver)
Elizabethan Singers (Stratford, Ont) (see Stratford Festival)
Elmer Iseler Singers
Elora Festival Singers
Ensemble cantabile de Montréal
Ensemble Musica Viva (Montreal)
Ensemble vocal André-Martin
Ensemble vocal Carpe Diem
Ensemble vocal Chantal-Masson
Ensemble vocal Musica Vica (Montreal)
Excentrica Women's Chamber Chorus (Edmonton)
Exultate Chamber Singers (Toronto)
Festival Singers of Canada
Forte - The Toronto Men's Chorus
Gallery Singers
Grand Philharmonic Choir (Kitchener-Waterloo Philharmonic Choir 1922-2006)
Greenwood Singers
Guelph Chamber Choir
Halifax Camerata Singers
Halifax Chamber Choir
Halifax Choral Society
Halifax Harmonic Society
Handel Society of Music
Hart House Chorus
Hart House Glee Club
Kamloops Choristers
Kingston Choral Society
Kitchener-Waterloo Philharmonic Choir
Leamington Choral Society
Leslie Bell Singers
Linden Singers of Victoria
Lynne Singers
Madrigal Singers (Burnaby, BC) (see Simon Fraser University)
Memorial University Chamber Choir
Men of the Deeps
Mendelssohn Choir of Montreal
Menno Singers
Mennonite Festival Chorus
Mississauga Choral Society
Montreal Bach Choir
Montreal Elgar Choir
Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir
Montreal Oratorio Society
Montreal Philharmonic Society
musica intima
Musica Orbium
Musical Union (Toronto)
Nathaniel Dett Chorale
National Chorus of Toronto
Oriana Women's Choir
Orpheus Choir of Toronto
Orpheus Club (Halifax)
Ottawa Bach Choir
Ottawa Choral Society and Union
Ottawa Welsh Choral Society
Palestrina Choir
Pax Christi Chorale
Petit Ensemble vocal
Phoenix Chamber Choir
Prairie Voices
Prince Albert Male Voice Chorus
Prince George Cantata Singers
Pro Coro Canada
Providence Chamber Singers
Regina Male Voice Choir
Regina Philharmonic Chorus
Les Rhapsodes
Richard Eaton Singers
St David's Welsh Male Voice Choir
St. John's Choir
St Lambert Choral Society (St Lambert, Que)
St Lawrence Choir
St Mary Magdalene Singers
Schubert Choir
Singing OUT!
Société musicale Ste-Cécile
Société philharmonique de Montréal
Star-Scape Singers
Swift Current Oratorio Choir
Tafelmusik Chamber Choir
Tallis Choir (Toronto)
Thunder Bay Symphony Chorus
Toronto Bach Choir
Toronto Classical Singers
Toronto Jewish Folk Choir
Toronto Mass Choir
Toronto Mendelssohn Choir
Toronto Men Teachers' Choir
Toronto Oratorio Society
Toronto Philharmonic Society
Toronto Welsh Male Voice Choir
Tudor Singers of Montreal
Union musicale de Québec
University of British Columbia Chamber Singers
Vancouver Bach Choir
Vancouver Cantata Singers
Vancouver Chamber Choir
Vancouver Chinese Choir Association
Vancouver Men's Chorus
Vancouver Orpheus Male Voice Choir
Vancouver Welshmen's Choir
Vesnivka Choir
Vespera Ensemble
Victoria Philharmonic Choir
Victoria Scholars
Vivaldi Chamber Choir
Winnipeg Male Voice Choir
Winnipeg Oratorio Society
Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir
Winnipeg Singers

Notable Children's and Youth Choirs in Canada

The last quarter of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st saw increased activity in the area of children's and youth choirs.

A representative - but by no means complete - list of such choirs, past and present, by province west to east, might include the Victoria Children's Choir, the Prima Youth Choir, the Vancouver Bach Children's Chorus (Vancouver Bach Choir), the Elgar Choir of British Columbia, the choirs at the Powell River Academy, the Calgary Boys' and Girls' Choirs, the Cantaré Children's Choir, the Mount Royal Youth Choir (Mount Royal College Conservatory), the Cantilon Choirs, the Alberta Children's Choir, Kokopelli Choir Association, the Winnipeg Mennonite Children's Choir, the Brandon Conservatory Chorale, the Toronto Children's Chorus, the Bach Children's Chorus of Scarborough, the VIVA! Youth Singers of Toronto, the Bishop Strachan School Chapel Choir, the Toronto Mendelssohn Youth Choir, the Canadian Children's Opera Chorus, the Ottawa Board of Education Central Choir, the Ontario Youth Choir, the F.A.C.E. Treble Choir from Montreal, the Petits Chanteurs à la Croix de Bois, the Petits Chanteurs de Granby, the Petits Chanteurs de la Maîtrise de Québec, the Petits Chanteurs de Trois-Rivières, the Petits Chanteurs du Mont-Royal, the Petite Maîtrise de Montréal, the South Shore Children's Chorus, the Confederation Centre Boys' Choir, the Confederation Centre Youth Chorus; in addition to the children's choirs of Victoria, Alberta, St. Mary's, Georgian Bay, and Ottawa; and the youth choirs of Prince George, Alberta, Ottawa, Nova Scotia, and the Newfoundland Symphony.

Further Reading

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