Music at Bloor Street has a long and honourable history, dating from the church’s formation in 1887.
By 1900 the present situation of having the choir led by 4 paid soloists was in place. A November, 1929 ad in the Globe and Mail for the performance of Vaughan Williams’ opera Hugh the Drover in the Royal York Hotel concert hall states that the role of Mary would be sung by Bloor Street soprano soloist Nellye Gill, with the ”chorus to be selected from the celebrated Bloor Street United Church Choir”.
Over the years the choir has continued to present larger works in service and in concert, with orchestra or just with organ, along with the shorter anthems and motets sung regularly for services. A number of former soloists, often starting out as performance students from the nearby University of Toronto Faculty of Music or the Royal Conservatory of Music, have gone on to full-fledged professional careers. These include the late renowned soprano Lois Marshall and the well-known current star of European new opera, Barbara Hannigan.
Our current Director of Music, David Passmore, is a published composer; the Bloor Street Choir has performed a number of his works, one of which they performed in January 2001 with the Toronto Symphony as part of the orchestra's benefit concert at Bloor Street for Out of the Cold. See info on purchasing the Choir CD here.
The Bloor Street music program provides a variety of styles of music for the Sunday morning worship services. In addition to traditional hymns, the choir performs compositions by composers from Byrd to Bach to Britten and beyond. The congregation is often invited to sing traditional songs of praise from other cultures around the world, including Aboriginal, Spanish and African hymns, sometimes accompanied by instruments such as piano (a recently restored concert grand), guitar, quatro, mandolin and percussion. Each service ends with an organ Postlude, featuring the range of expression and colour of the newly restored 4-manual Casavant pipe organ.
But the core of the music programme is the volunteers who come out every week to sing for joy and to contribute to the life of the church. If you are interested in singing in the choir, or want to learn more about it, please explore the links on the left side of the page. We hope you will find our music program enjoyable and meaningful, from the pews or as a performer.
For ages 15 and up, the Senior Choir leads the music in worship on Sundays, except in July and August when the music is led by a soloist or instrumentalist. The choir sings a wide repertoire of musical styles, from Renaissance motets to contemporary classical "and beyond." In keeping with the church's commitment to inclusivity and world outreach, the choir (and congregation) have sung in many different languages (French, Latin, Korean, Xosa, Zulu, Spanish, German etc.)
The choir is non-auditioned except for the 4 soloists who lead the sections. However you will find that some acquaintance with musical notation and an ability to carry a musical line and blend will be helpful.
A public concert is produced every couple of years or so, with orchestra and soloists. (Haydn Nelson Mass, Bach St. John Passion, Bruchner Requiem, and Saint-Saens Christmas Oratorio are some of the works the choir has performed in past concerts). The choir made a recording of music written for and by Bloor Streeters as a fund-raiser for the Organ Restoration Fund. See here.
Choir Practice: Thursdays at 7:30 pm, and Sundays at 9:30am before the 10:30 am service.
For more information, please contact David Passmore, Director of Music.
Soprano Jennifer Taverner is noted as possessing a voice of “rare natural beauty and freshness” who is quickly becoming recognized for her instinctive musicality, and excellent stage presence. An accomplished concert soloist, Ms. Taverner won the 2010 Royal Conservatory Orchestra’s Concerto Competition, singing Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915, and performed the same work with the Royal Conservatory Orchestra in Koerner Hall, under the baton of Johannes Debus of the Canadian Opera Company.
Other solo engagements in the 2010-2011 season included Handel’s Messiah with The Elmer Iseler Singers; Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem with The Larkin Singers, and The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir; and Elliot Carter’s A Mirror on Which to Dwell with the Royal Conservatory New Music Ensemble. Ms. Taverner recently attended the pretigious Tanglewood Music Center, where she performed Gyorgy Kurtag’s Scenes from a Novel for soprano and chamber ensemble, and sang the role of second priestess in arias from Gluck’s Iphigenie en Tauride with mezzo-soprano Susan Graham and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
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This season includes a recital with the Arts and Letters Club, Bach’s Christmas Oratorio with the Toronto Classical singers, and the role of Alice Ford in Verdi’s Falstaff with Opera by Request. Previous operatic roles include Female Chorus in Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia (Opera on the Avalon), Noémie in Massenet’s Cendrillon (Glenn Gould School), Angel/Witch in the world premiere of R. Murray Schafer’s The Children’s Crusade (Soundstreams/Luminato), and Laurette in Bizet’s Le Docteur Miracle (Glenn Gould School).
Ms. Taverner is a grant recipient of the Canada Council for the Arts, and has been named a laureate of Les Jeunes Ambassaduers Lyriques. She earned her Bachelor of Music at Wilfrid Laurier University, and recently completed the Artist Diploma program at the Royal Conservatory’s Glenn Gould School.
A native of Newfoundland, mezzo-soprano Michelle Simmons is a graduate of the Master of Music Vocal Performance program at the University of Toronto, where she studied with soprano Lorna MacDonald.
Since relocating to Toronto, Michelle has sung in the choruses of Toronto Operetta Theatre and Opera in Concert. She made her Toronto stage debut in the role of Soeur Mathilde in Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmelites. Other opera roles include Sesto in Handel’s Julius Caesar, Lisetta in Haydn’s Voyage to the Moon, and Third Lady in Mozart’s Magic Flute. During the summer of 2010, Michelle performed the role of Minerva in Offenbach’s Orphee aux Enfers in the south of France. Her most memorable performance to date was in the avant-garde work Allegory for a Rock Opera, presented by artist Derek Liddington as part of Nuit Blanche Toronto 2010.
In addition to her position as alto soloist at Bloor Street United, Michelle is the Programme Assistant at University Settlement Music & Arts School. She currently studies with Gary Relyea.
Michelle can be contacted at email@example.com
Damien Villeneuve leads the tenor section at Bloor Street; from time to time he’ll also be heard contributing his skills as a percussionist and violinist. Damien’s music studies began at the age of four with the violin. He continued his music studies at St. Michael’s Choir School in Toronto, and later the Etobicoke School of the Arts. Damien branched out into jazz around the age of 16 singing with the Toronto All Star Big Band. He studied jazz performance at Berklee College of Music in Boston where he received a two-year diploma, then continued his studies at the Chicago College of Performing Arts where he received a degree in Jazz Studies. Along with his activities as a composer, arranger and teacher, he has sung professionally with several choirs including the renowned Nathaniel Dett Chorale.
Geoff Keating is a baritone whose performance experience covers opera, oratorio, and concert recital. Having started his career in his native Australia studying singing with Merlyn Quaife at the University of Melbourne, Geoff has performed a number of operatic roles including Gugliemo in Cosi fan tutte, Schlemil and Crespel in The Tales of Hoffmann, and Ben in Menotti's The Telephone.
Geoff's concert experience includes baritone soloist performances in the Requiem masses by Mozart, Faure and Durufle, and Saint-Sean's Christmas Oratorio. A former member of Toronto's Opera in Concert Chorus, Geoff currently studies with Patricia Kern .
Over the last decade the Casavant organ has undergone a rebuild by the Simcoe, Ontario organ builder Blair Batty, funded through the dedication of the Organ Restoration Committee and the volunteer labour of the congregation (cleaning pipes) as well as their generous financial support of the project.
The four-manual Casavant organ was completed in 1954 to replace its predecessor, destroyed in Bloor Street's "Great Fire". It is a substantial well-built instrument voiced to the English Romantic tonal ideals of the time. Along with cleaning the pipes, replacing felt and leather valves, the builder has reconfigured and revoiced some sections of the organ to produce a more present, exciting sound, while respecting the essential character of the instrument
The final stage of restoration was to replace the aging mechanical system in the console with a digital system to allow maximum flexibility for the organist to plan registration changes, and make it easy for multiple users of the instrument to preserve their own settings.
The Young Chang concert grand in the sanctuary was purchased in the late 1960s. Over the last year the pin block and strings have been replaced and a new set of high quality German hammers installed. So now the piano sounds as good (or better) than when it was new!
The Bloor Street Choir CD "We Are Not Alone: Music for Choir and Organ from Bloor Street United Church" is available for $20 (plus postage and handling) from the church. Not only will it make a great present, but you will be helping to augment the Organ Restoration Fund.
The programme consists of Canadian composer Ruth Watson Henderson's The Bloor Street Mass, commissioned for Bloor Street's 100th Anniversary, three anthems by Frederick Sylvester, Organist at Bloor Street (1938-1966), Seasons of the Spirit, music by David Passmore and words by David Allan, former minister at Bloor Street, and the United Church Creed, "We are not alone", also composed by David Passmore.
The CD is for sale at the information table in McClure Hall after each Sunday service. For Further info or to order the CD, contact David Passmore.
The scholar has the opportunity to play the organ in services as well as practice on the 4-manual Casavant organ. Organ students are invited to apply, and the scholarship may be renewed for several years. Contact David Passmore for more information.
We are currently preparing Charpentier's charming Messe de Minuit for Christmas Eve, based on ancient French carols. The only recording widely available now is on the Naxos label with Toronto's own Kevin Mallon directing the Arcadia Ensemble.