The Toronto Choral Society was founded in 1845 to foster the development of the musical community in Toronto. Live music was a very popular form of entertainment as the rapidly growing population of new Canadians prospered. The headmaster of Upper Canada College, F. W. Barron, became the choir’s first president, and James P. Clarke, the organist at St. James Cathedral, the first conductor.
From its beginning, the Toronto Choral Society has been an integral part of our city’s life and history. The debut concert took place at the opening of St. George the Martyr Church, June 25, 1845. The program was rich with a diverse selection of music including compositions by Beethoven, Handel, Mozart, and Rossini. In October of 1845, the choir’s second concert was a celebration at King’s College, establishing the group’s tradition of performing two concerts a year.
Toronto launched its first streetcar line in 1861, and the TCS was there to perform and celebrate the occasion. In 1872, more than 130 years after it was written, the TCS presented the city’s debut of Handel’s Messiah. One of Toronto most beloved concert venues, Massey Hall, opened in 1894 and the Toronto Choral Society performed at the opening.
In 1860, the TCS became a non-auditioned ensemble and that tradition also continues to this day; the choir welcomes anyone who simply wants to sing.
On his retirement in 1872, conductor James P. Clarke was succeeded by an equally distinguished musician, Dr. Edward Fisher, founder of the Toronto Conservatory of Music. He presented Mendelssohn’s Athalie in the Horticultural Gardens Pavilion, in what is now Allan Gardens.
In its early years, the TCS commissioned and performed new compositions. Francesco D’Auria, who assumed the conductor’s post in 1892, directed the choir that year in the premiere of his own work, Gulnare, with words by Mrs. Edgar Jarvis.
The TCS In the Twentieth Century
Records are sketchy for the first half of the twentieth century, but we do know that the TCS’s tenor and bass sections were depleted during the Second World War. Public performances were suspended, and for a time, so was the Toronto Choral Society.
Fortunately, in 1986, the Toronto Choral Society resumed operations under the direction of Eric Hanbury, organist and choirmaster at St. Peter’s Anglican Church. The choir continued the tradition of two major performances a year, occasionally interspersed with smaller community concerts. Mr. Hanbury led the choir in works by Mendelssohn, Bach, Wesley, Bruchner, Pinkham, and Rutter, as well as compositions by Canadian composers such as George Fox and Healey Willan.
In 1990, Maura McGroarty, a classically trained singer and choral specialist, became the Toronto Choral Society’s director. Her vocal expertise helped the choir’s singers, most of whom have little formal musical training, to learn important technical elements of choral singing. Under Ms. McGroarty, the choir performed works by Handel, Bach, Rutter, and Healey Willan, and explored Canadian and American folk songs as well as other light, popular works.
The TCS Today
In 1994, leadership of the Toronto Choral Society was assumed by Geoffrey Butler. Under his guidance, TCS has expanded in new directions, performing a rich and challenging variety of sacred, secular, and popular vocal compositions from around the world.
In 1996, TCS celebrated its sesquicentennial with a concert that returned the choir to its roots. The program revisited 1845 and two important social movements of the time: Irish immigration to the New World and the escape of American slaves to Canada via the Underground Railroad. Combining traditional Irish music and African American spirituals with historical readings, this poignant program was one of the most popular in the choir’s history and was repeated, by popular demand, in 2001.
Thanks to Mr. Butler’s eclectic approach, every season and every concert is distinctive. Other notable performances have included Ramirez’s Navidad Nuestra, Vivaldi’s Gloria, Britten’s Ceremony of Carols (with harp and children’s chorus), Mozart’s Requiem, Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy in C Minor, performed with the Oakville Symphony Orchestra at Oakville’s annual Waterfront Festival, and Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. In 2004, the choir reprised Handel’s Messiah.
In spring, 2005, the TCS Community Choir completed a series of three concerts celebrating the history and cultural diversity of the city with Toronto: A Musical Mosaic.
In keeping with the choir’s tradition of community involvement, the choir has performed benefit concerts for Toronto’s Settlement House, Fife House, and the Out of the Cold program. The choir was also part of the first annual Sing for Sight gala, whose proceeds benefit the Foundation Fighting Blindness.
Looking to the Future
As it grows to better serve the needs of the greater Toronto community, the Toronto Choral Society has grown to include three choirs. The 150-member, non-auditioned TCS Community Choir is the descendent of the original choral society.
In 1999, Mr. Butler received a grant from the United Way to found a choir drawn from the homeless community of Toronto. The Street Haven Women’s Choir meets weekly at Street Haven at the Crossroads, a downtown shelter serving the needs of women. Since its inception, it has been the subject of a documentary and has been heard in the music video In Her Mother’s Eyes.
In 2000, a smaller auditioned group, North 44°, was formed. North 44° also performs concerts and appears by invitation at special events and guest performances.
In 2013, the Toronto Choral Society launched a choir for children that is modeled on the same mission, values, and principles as the community choir. This choir is led by Artistic Director Sarah Parker.
The Toronto Choral Society has undergone many changes in over 173 years, but it continues to provide exciting, challenging, and entertaining choral music for singers and audiences in the Greater Toronto Area. If you would like to become a member of the Toronto Choral Society Choir, or are interested in supporting its activities by becoming a sponsor, please contact us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.