Arts and Music

Supporting Community In Harmony: the Canadian Orpheus Male Choir

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.

By Shiona Mackenzie
Published April 30, 2014

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 and COMC friends backstage at Hamilton Place in 2011
Keith and COMC friends backstage at Hamilton Place in 2011

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.

"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," says Keith.

"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 music 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 perform at 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, including Christ's Church Cathedral on James Street North, 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.

Right now, the COMC is gearing up for a tour of Ireland in 2015 and they want to beef up their numbers to wow Irish audiences even more than the first time they performed there, in 2000.

There's no wonder the COMC is internationally respected. They have consistently selected 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, and, since last summer, Ian Green, B.Mus, ARCT, have been accompanying the COMC this past year.

Krista, based in Ancaster, teaches a full roster of music students, but also finds time to perform, record, and write music, while Ian, a professional musician, music educator and entrepreneur who lives in Hamilton's Ward 4 and runs "Music By Ian Green", is also Music Director and organist at Ryerson United Church in Ancaster.

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

"Accompanying the COMC is particularly satisfying because of their strong team spirit, not to mention the uplifting experience they bring to audiences from Oakville to St. Catharines and beyond."

Keith, during his 26 years with the COMC, successfully took on the role of Concert Secretary. He regularly traverses Hamilton, meeting people and booking COMC gigs to help various local groups achieve their fundraising goals.

"A few highlights for me have been performing for the Toronto Star Fresh Air Fund in 1991, touring the Maritimes in 1997, Trenton 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. We're holding it in October, in Oakville this year.

"Making a difference can be deeply gratifying," says Keith. "Without the COMC, I would not have realized my dream of entertaining and helping others. They are 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, lucky for me, just about any guy can join."

The COMC will host their 37th Annual Concert on May 10 at 7:30 PM at People's Church, 510 Mohawk Road West. Tickets are $20 each and can be purchased online or by phoning 905-383-5130. For more information, visit www.comc.ca, call Membership Director John Kennedy at 905-549-2426, or email orpheus@bell.net.

First published in the Sherman Hub News

Shiona Mackenzie is a communications professional with 17 years of international experience and a lifelong love of music.

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