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St. Michael’s Choir School creates an environment that allows each student to live the motto upon which the school was founded: he who sings, prays twice. Music is woven into the fabric of life at the Choir School, where the vocal program is fully integrated into the daily schedule. Students have choral classes every day, with the classes rotating through grades, vocal part sectionals and full choir rehearsals, with regular theory lessons playing an important role in overall musical competency. Every week they receive a one-on-one piano lesson with a highly qualified instructor.
Weekly choral Masses begin in Junior Choir (Grades 5 and 6), though the Elementary Choir (Grades 3 and 4) learns the ropes by providing music for a handful of Masses over the course of the year, including one on Christmas Eve. The weekly choral Masses draw congregants from across the GTA who come to hear the beautiful sacred music that helps them draw closer to God and their Catholic faith, making choristers an integral part of the Cathedral community. The commitment to sacred music that characterizes St. Michael’s Choir School provides students with a deep sense of the beauty and joy of the Catholic spiritual tradition, and helps them mature in their faith.
An opportunity for training, before the rigours of weekly Mass begin, the Elementary Choir is made up of students in Grades 3 and 4. Here, students learn about being in a choir through unison and basic harmony singing, and develop their early skills at theory. Every year, the Elementary Choir provides the music for a handful of Cathedral Masses, allowing them to learn the pace and process of service from a choral perspective, and get to know the expectations of such an important role. The professionalism and essential skills choristers develop in Elementary Choir are key to their success as they take on a greater role at the Choir School and at the Cathedral.
The Elementary Choir appears in all school concerts and some community events throughout the year. In 2016, they were part of both a concert raising funds for the sponsorship of Syrian refugees and the Ecumenical Prayer Service for Christian Unity and the Plight of Refugees.
In Grade 5 and 6, choristers are part of the Junior Choir. During these years, they build their vocal skills and begin a more rigorous theory and musicianship program. They also begin taking part in weekly choral Masses, singing on Sundays at 10:00am. In Junior Choir, students begin to work on more complex harmonies in their pieces and on developing the choral discipline they will need in Senior Choir.
In addition to weekly Masses, the Junior Choir appears in all school concerts. They also share their music with the community at Masses for the Toronto Catholic District School Board and the Catholic Education Centre, and at special events including holiday parties and sports events. In 2017, they were featured on an episode of Vision TV’s People Who Sing Together.
The Senior Choir represents the pinnacle of choral training at St. Michael’s Choir School. Comprised of all students Grade 7 and up, it specializes in great choral masterworks arranged for four or more voices.
In order to provide music for weekly Masses, the Senior Choir (which normally numbers around 175 voices) splits in two. The Saturday Senior Choir sings the Mass at 5:00pm on Saturdays, while the Sunday Senior Choir sings at 12noon on Sundays. At the beginning of each school year, students and conductors work together to draw up the rosters for Saturdays and Sundays in a way that will ensure good choral balance and suit the needs of families. During the year, students who need to switch days (either for a single instance or the balance of the year) can do so in consultation with their conductor. Absences are expected to be reported well in advance.
Because of its size, the Senior Choir is not always able to sing at special events in the community. When requests are made, a select group from the Senior Choir may be assembled to provide music. Such events have included the 2014 grand opening of the York GO Concourse at Union Station, an appearance on Vision TV’s People Who Sing Together, and various corporate and not-for-profit events. They are often called upon to provide funeral music for members of the St. Michael’s Choir School community.
Senior Choir students move into more advanced theory work, including harmony, counterpoint and analysis, and continue to develop their piano skills.
The Senior Choir appears in full at all school concerts.
The Tenor Bass (TB) Choir is made up of boys in Grade 7 and up whose voices have changed from soprano or alto to tenor or bass. It gives students an opportunity to focus on repertoire arranged for men’s voices, and explore some non-liturgical repertoire. The TB Choir rehearses once per week, during the 11am choral class time, and meets for occasional after school rehearsals in the lead up to major concerts. This choir occasionally provides Mass music in St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica and appears in all school concerts.
The high school members of the TB Choir join with St. Michael’s Choir School alumni every year on the Wednesday of Holy Week to sing the service of Tenebrae. The setting used at the Choir School was composed by our founder, Monsignor John Edward Ronan.
The St Michael’s Choir School Wedding Choir is comprised of treble voices from the Junior Choir. Grade 5 and 6 boys who participate in the wedding choir have the opportunity to take on a leadership role as representative of St Michael’s Choir School when singing at a wedding. In addition, they will earn $25 for each wedding they sing. The wedding choir rehearses outside of the regular choral schedule to learn pieces specific to weddings and will also commit to attending an additional rehearsal before each individual wedding ceremony. Weddings take place primarily at St Michael’s Cathedral Basilica but occasionally at another parish under special circumstances. It is a wonderful privilege for St Michael’s Choir School to be a part of such an important day in people’s lives and boys who are a part of the Wedding Choir take that responsibility very seriously.
The St. Michael’s Choir School Benefit Choir is a student-led community outreach project open to all high school students. It is committed to reaching those who otherwise could not get to Masses or concerts. The Christmas season is the busiest time of the year for the mission of the Benefit Choir, as it can be a season when those who are isolated most need the gift of music to bring joy to their lives. Benefit Choir members have also helped supply music for personal and corporate milestones and celebrations, and for weddings and funerals held outside of the St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica parish.
Each SMCS secondary student who participates in Benefit Choir commits to attending all scheduled rehearsals and performances and receives 20 volunteer hours and a special thank you lunch from the Choral Institute at the end of June. The Benefit Choir not only blesses those who hear them, it provides each participant with an opportunity for community leadership and spiritual growth.
Cantors are integral lay-leaders in worship during the Masses at St Michael’s Cathedral Basilica. Each choral conductor selects psalm and communion hymn cantors from their choir for each Mass. Vocal coaches work with each cantor during the school week prior to the Mass to ensure that the boys are prepared both musically and spiritually by discussion of scripture text. The vocal coaches and cathedral organist hold a final rehearsal in the cathedral to round out the preparation.
The cantor training choristers receive at St. Michael’s Choir School enables them to make a meaningful contribution to the musical life of their home parish, both during their student years and as an alumnus.
St Michael’s Choir School offers one-on-one training with both vocal coaches and voice teachers . Vocal coaches work with boys who may be experiencing vocal difficulty or in need to additional vocal help. Often one of the conductors may recommend that a boy work individually with one of our coaches to improve a specific skill or develop their vocal health. Where students experience more serious vocal health problems, the Choir School has a working relationship with St Michael’s Hospital Voice Clinic where students can access medical care and extended support. Often our vocal coaches may recommend that boys take individual voice lessons.
Our voice teachers are all well respected professionals within the Toronto choral and voice community. Boys taking voice lessons see their teacher once a week and are encouraged to prepare for Voice RCM exams and take advantage of the many performing opportunities and workshops made available through St Michael’s Choir School voice department. These weekly voice lessons involve a nominal extra fee on top of yearly choral program fees.