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Tonight: Starry St. Andrew's concert asks where would we be without church solo jobs?

By John Terauds on April 27, 2012

Russell Braun, Monica Whicher and others gather for a musical celebration at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church across from Roy Thomson Hall tonight.

Whether you are a believer or not, thank the good (Judeo-Christian) Lord on behalf of singers everywhere.

The bigger churches and synagogues in cities everywhere on the continent serve as havens not only for people looking for spiritual nourishment, but also for would-be professional singers looking for a weekly opportunity to perform in public and earn back their tuition money.

Were it not for sacred music directors, worship committees and generous patrons, vocal students at the Glenn Gould School, University of Toronto and York would be hard-pressed to find paying work related to their wished-for career path.

Most of this work goes unheralded, being part of the day-to-day life of these religious institutions. The people who worship there usually appreciate what’s going on. The rest of the world passes by, oblivious.

There’s an opportunity to turn that oblivion into awareness tonight at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, the big neo-Romanesque pile encased in scaffolding across the street from Roy Thomson Hall.

Baritone Russell Braun and soprano Monica Whicher — but two of several generations of great Canadian voices  given a helping hand by church jobs — are among a crowd gathering at St. Andrew’s for an evening of great music.

The programme reflects St. Andrew’s heritage, explains current music director, Dan Bickle. That includes pieces such as Ubi caritas by Maurice Duruflé, Healey Willan’s Rise Up, My Love, little somethings by Johannes Brahms and Charles Villiers Stanford, as well as solos and duets from sacred works by J.S. Bach and George Frideric Handel.

There will also be arias and choruses from Felix Mendelssohn’s Elijah, a work especially dear to Douglas Bodle, the 88-year-old former University of Toronto music professor and music director for 40 years at St. Andrew’s who gave Braun and Whicher their first paid singing jobs.

Honouring Bodle (who is alive, well and set to be present tonight) and his substantial legacy is the official excuse for all the public musicmaking.

Joining Braun and Whicher are fellow St. Andrew’s alumni, Allison Angelo, Keith Klassen, Xin Wang, Elizabeth Forster, Mark Wilson, Diane English, Steve Wadhams, Craig Morash, Maureen Moore Andrews, Kevin Bradshaw, Robert Longo, John Tute, Anne Darling Walker, Marion Cooney and Harvey Patterson.

Braun’s wife, pianist Carolyn Maule, and Bickle are set to accompany on the Bösendorfer concert grand piano the church bought last year so that it would be able to offer the city a more enticing concert venue, not just a space for worship and contemplation.

Bickle explains that his current core of eight paid choristers will sing two short choral pieces, and that the rest of the evening will be devoted to the alumni. The organ, which sits in a loft at the back of the church, won’t be used until the very end of the concert, when everyone present will get to sing a favourite Victorian evening hymn, The Day Thou Gavest, Lord, is Ended.

The concert starts at 7:30. Adult tickets are $20 ($10 for students), and will be available at the door.

For an a cappella taste, here are the Yale Glee Club Chamber Singers celebrating their 150th anniversary last eyar with Duruflé’s Ubi caritas:

John Terauds

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