THUNDER BAY, ON ---- April 29, 2012 ---- When something is working well for you why change? This weekend the Fort William Male Choir celebrated its 47th annual Spaghetti dinner Sing-a-long. This year the choir made the change from the Da Vinci Centre to the Slovak Legion in the City’s East end. Judging by the sold out crowd it is fair to say all of their audience managed the change in venue just fine. Judging by the comments from the audience, most think that this is a positive move on behalf of the choir. The manager spoke with each table to make certain that everyone was well catered to.
While the venue is new, the choir’s formula for a successful evening of food, wine and song is not. The very first sing-a-long dinner was held at the Ortona Hall, which I believe was torn down some years ago. The popularity of the event eventually required a larger venue and for many years the event was associated with the Da Vinci Centre. Saturday’s event was like all the other “Smorgs” I have attended. The choir relies on good food, good company, bad jokes, and a lot of old school songs to create a merry evening. Then there are the skits! This has been a recipe for continued success for the choir and they performed to sell out crowds on Friday and Saturday nights.
The dinner guests are served by the choir members, each table is hosted by the choir member who sold them their tickets. It is a simple idea but the idea of friends and family sharing a good meal and some good hearted fun also proves to be a great audience relations exercise. The patrons who attend the “Smorg” are the strongest supporters of Thunder Bay’s oldest choir.
Most people are not totally devoid of humour and some people are more blest with this vice than others. The choir creates their own skits. At one time each section had to develop a skit for the show. Some members relished the task so much they would leave the country for a while and hope it would all be over by the time they came back. In the past some of the best skits were inspired in a member’s basement over more than a few drinks.
Usually the sing-along is not really a musical event but a social occasion. This choir excels at entertaining its supporters and takes genuine delight in seeing them come back each year. The choir loves to sing songs that they know are favourites of the audience; this is part of their formula for success. While the choir is smaller than the last time I heard them they are singing in better form and with much better intonation. It must be the summer festival they will be attending in Quebec for they spent more attention to detail in their songs. No other choir in town does a better job of making the lyrics of their songs easily understood. This is important to their audience many of whom have reached an age where hearing aids are a fact of life.
In the glory days of the FWMC many members were recruited right out of teachers college where they were planning on becoming music teachers at school. Today music programs in school teach little choral music and Ontario has become a poorer place because of it. Not just the FWMC but other groups such as they Symphony Chorus struggle to find trained young vibrant singers. Declining church attendance means a lot of new singers are not really being trained there as well.
Groups such as the FWMC have a lot to offer men who are interested in becoming members. The group has a great deal of expertise especially when it comes to hosting shows at the Community Auditorium. It is safe to say that no other community group has hosted as many shows at the Auditorium as the FWMC. They are well versed on all of the state of the art production techniques.
Singing in the choir requires the dedication to attend practices which can be three times a week before concerts. They have their own way do doing things and new members will learn by rote one song at a time. The choir sings from memory. This allows them freedom to move and animate their songs on stage. A FWMC concert is a visual as well as a musical show. Singing in a male choir allows men to choose a section which best suites their vocal range. In mixed choirs singers have to accommodate a wider vocal range but in a male choir the men sing in a range where they can really produce a lot of sound. Male choirs then have an impressive dynamic range not found in mixed choirs.
One other thing I have learned from this choir is the choirs ability to focus sound. This happens because they sing from memory. Literally the singer in the row behind you is singing right into your ear. When you are reading music you must stand further apart and you lose some of the support of your buddy beside you.
For over 80 years the FWMC has been entertaining audiences in Thunder Bay. Like the Hoito restaurant and toasted Persians for breakfast this choir is unique to Thunder Bay and I hope it continues to thrive for many decades to come. For more information about this choir visit their website or contact Kendal House.
Photos: Courtesy of Pat Gallager
Arts Editor: LakeSuperiorNews.com