By Nalyn Tindall
The Toronto Concert Choir (TCC) hopes to bring classical choral singing back to campus. The choir, which started in 2020, follows in the footsteps of the former Oakham House Choir, who were a part of Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) for over 35 years.
The choir previously received financial support from the Palin Foundation, a not-for-profit corporation that operates the TMU Student Campus Centre. After a severe funding cut as a result of the 2019 Student Choice Initiative, the choir had to stop rehearsing at the historic Oakham House. This also led to the choir’s name change, but despite this, their history remains.
The group is currently seeking a new rehearsal space on campus but has yet to find success.
Previously composed of up to 100 members including students, faculty and community members, the group is now struggling to regain its strength. The group rehearsed online throughout the COVID-19 pandemic but recently got together to rehearse in-person for the first time under their new name on Sept. 12. Approximately 50 members returned, with very few TMU students and staff involved.
“It’s been challenging because the university does not have a lot of space,” said Donna Koller, an early childhood studies professor at TMU and member of the choir. “So classrooms and students take precedence.”
Koller noted that the makeup of the group has added to this challenge. As the choir is a diverse group of community members, students, faculty and alumni, it’s hard to arrange a time and place to practice around their many schedules and different lifestyles. The pandemic made this even more challenging as students and staff were the only people allowed on campus last year.
“We hope that we will be under the protection of the university,” said Matthew Jaskiewicz, the conductor and musical director of the TCC. The choir is currently rehearsing at the St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church but they hope to find a more suitable space covered by the university.
“I still believe that we serve some kind of purpose here”
Despite being affiliated with TMU from its beginnings, the choir feels far from a student group. The group was founded with students in mind but has struggled to attract young members. “The presence of all these outsiders, they are here because without them, there wouldn’t be a choir,” said Jaskiewicz.
Second-year professional music student Zoey Ryen said she had no idea TMU had a choir. “I did choir for most of my life and if I had known we had a choir I would’ve gone to one of their performances or even tried out myself,” said Ryen.
Jaskiewicz has directed the choir since it was established in 1984. “I still believe that we serve some kind of purpose here,” he said. “There’s lots of young people who graduate from high school and they used to sing or play in bands and they are coming here and they miss it. They want to continue with the music.”
He hopes that interested students will find the group and be able to come sing, as this is the reason the group was created. The choir is the only group practicing classical music at the school, according to Jaskiewicz.
TMU communication and culture graduate Emma Whyte joined the choir in 2017 and has been with the group since.
“I’m just excited that the choir is back,” she said in an email to The Eyeopener. “I just enjoy getting to sing and read music in a group setting like this…I’ve really enjoyed it because the music is both challenging [and] fun.”
Fifth-year aerospace engineering student Lester Pinlac has been a member of the choir since 2019. He said the choir has been a meaningful part of his university experience, allowing him to meet new people and take part in something he feels is worthwhile.
“It definitely helps in alleviating a lot of the stress that comes with school and academic life. It’s an outlet for me to sing my heart out,” said Pinlac.
He hopes to see more student engagement with the group and wants students to know the choir isn’t as serious as they may think.
“It’s a lot more relaxed and it’s definitely more enjoyable when you sing with people,” said Pinlac.
Many members of the choir said they hope to see a return to its former size. The choir is seeking ways to further advertise the group, though finding the funds to do so is complicated as the group is currently funded by choir members.
“I hope to see a real cross section of faculty and students and staff who work on campus come together in joyous music,” said Koller. “I just think that would really be representative of a really socially inclusive campus.”
“It’s an outlet for me to sing my heart out”
The choir rehearses every Monday evening and continues to accept new students, free of charge. So far, the members say rehearsals have been going well as they prepare for their first of two concerts this year.
The choir has played an important role in developing the university’s musical community over the last 38 years. As the Oakham House Choir, the group sang at various events and competitions, including Nuit Blanche, the Toronto Kiwanis Music Festival and the Karl Jenkins concert at Carnegie Hall.
“It’s great to get to share our music with friends and family and getting to sing our music with an orchestra is a really unique experience,” said Whyte.
The Toronto Concert Choir will perform their first concert of the year in early December. A venue has not yet been booked for the concert.