Renowned choirmaster brings experience to Beach church

Churchgoers at one of the Beach’s oldest churches have something new to sing about.

St. John The Baptist Norway Anglican Church is refreshing its music program with the arrival of a well-known choir director.

Melva Graham, renowned for her work with some of the city’s best known choirs, brings decades of experience in choir-building to the historic church at Kingston Road and Woodbine Avenue.

She’s already expanded the adult choir and is now hoping to develop a choir for young singers. Graham is hoping to start a small beginners’ group of children aged 7 to 9 to practise for an hour on Thursdays after school.

“We will start just with learning to sing and read music, and when these skills are beginning to grow, then they can begin to sing in St. John’s 10:30 a.m. Sunday service,” Graham said.

Older children already rehearse later on Thursdays, and any young person  Grade 7 and up is welcome to join them, especially if they already read music.

Graham has had a distinguished musical career. Since arriving in Canada from the U.S. in 1971, she’s  served three  United Church congregations, building multi-choir programs and handbell teams.

Before coming to St. John, she was music director for 25 years at Grace Church on-the-Hill, maintaining the Choir of Gentlemen and Boys – the only such choir remaining in Toronto – and only one  of only three surviving men and boys’ choirs in the British choral tradition left in Canada.

She also built the St. Cecilia Choir from 10 girls up to a 40-member choir of women and girls.

“With these choirs, I toured in the U.K. four times and gave numerous concerts – the highlight was Bach’s Matthaeuspassion, which we performed with Tafelmusik orchestra members and soloists in 1999,” she said. “The children sang the entire work in German – just as in Bach’s time – not just two choruses as other choirs usually do it.”

Graham has also been an adjunct instructor at three Canadian universities, and the conductor of other concert choirs: the Dalhousie Chamber Choir (Halifax), the Hart House Singers (University of Toronto), and Toronto Camerata Chamber Choir.

She also puts her 25 years of experience teaching boy trebles to good use teaching and assisting the choral director at Royal St. George’s College.

As well as the organ, Graham also plays piano and harpsichord, which she taught at Dalhousie.

Music can boost a child’s self confidence and help them develop in a number of ways, she believes.

“Singing is something everyone can do and should do for its many intrinsic benefits – relaxation, deep breathing, self-expression, connecting with your emotions,” she said. “Recent research has proven that children who learn music at an early age actually grow in intelligence, as well as develop self-confidence, ability to concentrate, and show poise in public.”

Not every boy wants to play sports, and singing in a choir introduces them to new friends and provides them with a sense of community and with role models, she said. It’s also an important way for both boys and girls to express themselves artistically, Graham says.

“Exposure to Christian texts through singing benefits students who later study history, art and languages – where else would they sing and memorize so much 16th-century English?” she said.

Parents of young people interested in joining the choir should call the church at 416-691-4560 for more information.

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