Founding chorister reflects on retiring from his beloved choir

Pax Christi Chorale |
Members of Pax Christi Chorale rehearse a piece by Haydn. (Photo courtesy of Pax Christi Chorale)

“Singing has always been life-giving for me.”

Gary Harder moved to Toronto in 1987 as pastor of Toronto United Mennonite Church. His arrival coincided with the founding of Pax Christi Chorale, which was inspired by the success of a choir assembled as part of the celebrations of the 1986 Bicentennial of Mennonites in Canada. Harder has been a member of  the group from the beginning.

Pax Christi Chorale has grown into a vital, ambitious community choir, performing repertoire ranging from the masterpieces of the oratorio tradition, passions and cantatas, to newly commissioned, modern works. The choir’s overarching aim is to experience the deep joys of choral singing and to communicate that joy to its audience. 

Under the 20-year leadership of artistic director Stephanie Martin (1996-2017), a Toronto conductor, composer and educator, the choir recorded four CDs, became established as an oratorio choir, and created education and outreach programs that are still a vital part of the choir’s mission.

Pax Christi Chorale continues to broaden its community and deepen its impact as one of Toronto’s leading arts organizations under the expert leadership of artistic director Elaine Choi, a Toronto conductor, educator, church musician and instrumentalist.

Although rooted in the Mennonite community, Pax Christi Chorale welcomes choristers from across the Greater Toronto Area, from different walks of life and faith, or non-faith, emerging professional singers and church musicians, from young adults to seniors. Two-thirds of its choristers have sung with Pax Christi Chorale for 10 years or more.

Harder, a bass, reflects: “We sang an incredible variety of wonderful music. We sang in small churches, in huge cathedrals. A particularly momentous performance was when we sang Miziwe, by Odawa composer Barbara Croall in Koerner Hall in 2019. We singers were accompanied by drums and Indigenous prayers; powerful, emotional stuff!”

Harder is moving away from Toronto. As he retires from Pax Christi Chorale, he does so contented, but with moist eyes. “I feel fully blessed and fulfilled musically and with deep personal connections made,” he says. 

Pax Christi Chorale’s upcoming performance is Considering Matthew Shepard, a modern oratorio composed by Craig Hella Johnson. It’s a secular Passion based on the true story of a young man who was beaten to death because he was gay. For more information, and to learn more about Pax Christi Chorale, visit

This article appears in the March 21, 2022 print issue, with the headline “‘I feel blessed and fulfilled musically.’” 

Read more stories from Canadian Mennonite's Focus on the Arts:
Singing through the pandemic 
Sharing art and building community in the digital space

Members of Pax Christi Chorale rehearse a piece by Haydn. (Photo courtesy of Pax Christi Chorale)

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