By the Rev. Bob Bettson
It was a trip down memory lane for more than 40 alumni of the Toronto Diocesan Choir School for Girls, gathering for the 40th anniversary of the popular music program in Whitby in August.
Established in the mid-70s as an effort to give a boost to choral singing among girls and young women ages 8 to 18, the school – affectionately known as “choir camp” – has brought fun and lots of singing opportunities to generations of young choristers.
Director Tony Browning, music director for 39 years, says the school’s success lies in the balance between musical training and singing services at churches in the Diocese, and lots of activities.
During the reunion at the Trafalgar Castle School in Whitby, where the camp is held, alumni joined current campers in a typical day, compressed into an afternoon. It included choir practice, games, a scavenger hunt, chapel, supper, a sing-along and a slideshow from past years. One of the former students drove from New York to attend the reunion.
Every year, the choir camp concludes with a recital and Evensong at St. James Cathedral in Toronto, an annual service that attracts a congregation of hundreds, including many proud parents. This year’s service included a new musical composition by Andrew Agar, specially commissioned for the choir to perform. When welcoming the choristers, Dean Douglas Stoute said his daughters had attended the choir camp many years ago, and it has been an experience which has impacted many lives.
Mr. Browning says the choir school has proved to be the foundation of not only a loyal volunteer staff, most of whom have been serving for decades, but many participants who come back year after year. Some who maintain ties with the camp will form the nucleus for maintaining the choir school in the future, he said.
The choir school has benefited from financial bequests to the Diocese and other foundation grants to provide some bursaries for campers. That has allowed the registration fees to remain at $900 for two weeks.
The Rev. Bob Bettson is the father of a choir camp alumnus and the incumbent of the Parish of Bobcaygeon, Dunsford and Burnt River.