Victoria choir seeks men who aren't afraid to sing

Fantasy football, power tools, a cold beer and choral singing. One of these things is not like the others, and the Linden Singers are trying to change that with a workshop called Real Men Sing.

No experience is necessary to participate in the singing workshop, aimed at dispelling the stereotype that choir participation is somehow less masculine than other activities, according to choir president Peter John Parker. He said he hopes it answers a real problem in the Victoria choral community: Women far outnumber men.

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“The general experience of choirs in Victoria is that there’s a shortage of men,” Parker said.

“Getting out from behind the wheel of a truck to join a choir is not culturally encouraged as much as it should be.”

Several local choir leaders agreed. Cindy Romphf, founder and president of the Vancouver Island Chamber Choir, said her choir has about 15 women and only 10 men.

“There’s always fewer men. It’s like that at every level,” she said.

Gail Harcombe estimated the proportion of women in the Capriccio Vocal Ensemble, where she was formerly president, is between two-thirds to three-quarters. And Anne Schaefer said The Choir, which sings popular music, has about 20 men and 50 women.

“There really does seem to be, across the board, this barrier for men,” said Schaefer, who grew up in a “family of choral directors.”

Some cultures, including many First Nations, continue to highlight male voices, she said. But North Americans with European roots have given up many of the traditional opportunities to sing together.

“We used to get together centuries ago and mark the occasions of life together with music, dance, the arts, raising our voices,” she said.

She also said male voices are often relegated to supporting roles that are less attractive. And while there remain many roles for men in musical theatre, those roles typically go against traditional and stereotypical ideas of masculinity, too.

From Parker’s view, a few social and historical shifts have added to the problem. Church — once a Euro-American cultural staple that built hymns into regular routine — is no longer the mainstream institution it used to be. And although there are “heartening” signs in school music programs, Parker says young men are still fed a false message.

“Singing is for wusses and people who play football don’t sing: That’s the kind of message we fear is out there more strongly than people like to admit.”

In fact, it took a traditionally “manly” role model to get Parker, now 66, to start singing as a teen.

“It wasn’t until a phys-ed teacher we had, who was German and tough as nails, started a glee club for boys that I actually got up on a stage with a group of other boys and sang,” Parker said.

As an Anglican minister, he now has regular opportunities to stretch his vocal chords, in addition to participating with the Linden Singers. But he hopes to encourage men who don’t regularly sing outside of their showers to try it out at the workshop.

Real Men Sing will be led by Jim Sparks, who is director of vocal music at the Langley Fine Arts School in Fort Langley. The workshop begins tonight at 7 and continues Saturday.

A beer and wine bar will be open to make newbies comfortable in tonight’s session, titled Discover Your Voice, when participants practise familiar songs with simple arrangements.

Beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday, the focus shifts to Gaining Control, during which harmonies and ensemble work will be explored. Saturday afternoon’s Let Me Entertain You! shares some group skills in communication and entertainment.

The workshop will be held at Church of the Advent, 720 Mount View Ave., in Colwood. Online registration is $50 at lindensingers.ca.

Parker said the idea to make it a men-only event was to encourage a comfortable atmosphere.

“We wanted to do something where men could be on their own,” he said. “One is always a bit nervous these days to do something gender specific, but in this case it’s for a very real reason.”

There are many precedents, in terms of men-only choirs — including the Victoria Male Voice Choir and the Arion Male Voice Choir. But Parker said the idea isn’t to form a male voice choir, but to encourage enrolment in many of the existing choirs (The Linden Singers will have information on hand about their group as well as many other local choirs.)

“I’m confident that everyone who is there is going to have a good time. And I’m hopeful that men who haven’t sung in choirs before are encouraged enough to actually sign up for one of the choirs in town.”

asmart@timescolonist.com

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