Singing through the pandemic

Melissa Miller | Menno Singers
Waterloo, Ont.
Director Brandon Leis leads Menno Singers in an outdoor rehearsal at Pioneer Park Christian Fellowship Church, Kitchener, Ont., last fall. (Menno Singers photo)

The Menno Singers choir of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont., has been making music since 1955. At that time, Abner Martin, a recent graduate of Kitchener’s Rockway Mennonite School and a student of music, established a choir simply for the joy of singing choral music. The choir has continued to sing throughout the pandemic, albeit with significant adjustments.

In February 2020, the choir recorded songs to accompany MennoMedia’s new hymnal, Voices Together. In November 2021, the choir gathered in person to record a lessons and carols service, which was broadcast during Advent.

In between, artistic director Brandon Leis, ably supported by an executive committee, offered a range of ways to make music focused on creating and maintaining engagement, meaning and relationships with the community, the music and each other.

Activities included:

  • “Virtual choir pieces,” in which recordings of individual members were merged into ensemble pieces, available to online listeners.
  • Music education about the voice.
  • Outdoor singing in backyards, on a church lawn and in the parking garage of Kitchener Market.
  • As cool fall evenings arrived in late 2021, members—well-masked, distanced and vaccinated—happily returned indoors to the normal rehearsal space of First Mennonite Church in Kitchener.

“Since Love is Lord of heav’n and earth, how can we keep from singing?” Leis says, quoting from Robert Lowry’s hymn, “My Life Flows On.”

Alto Susan Dueckman joined the choir during the pandemic. Her childhood experiences in an accomplished church-singing family were a factor. She says she values “the friendship and sense of belonging that comes with learning to blend my voice with others,” adding, “Most of all, I love the music and sense of accomplishment after a performance!” She credits Leis for doing “an awesome job of keeping us engaged during our Zoom rehearsals.”

Gerry Steingart has sung tenor with the Menno Singers since the mid-1970s. He says he sings because he “would be lost without that regular outlet for making music,” adding, “There is something transcendent about harmonizing with a group of likeminded singers.” He laments pandemic limitations, saying: “I long for the day when we can sing again without masks. Special masks designed for singing are very hot and humid, and eyeglasses fogging up is a constant problem.”

“The pandemic offered us new ways to create music and probe how meaning in a musical community is created,” says Leis. Even with restrictions, Dueckman, Steingart and dozens of other singers have continued the Menno Singers choir’s mission of making simple joy through choral music. 

Above: The Menno Singers perform Rheinberger’s Abendleid in the Kitchener Market garage last fall.

Read more stories from Canadian Mennonite's Focus on the Arts:
Founding chorister reflects on retiring from his beloved choir
Sharing art and building community in the digital space

Director Brandon Leis leads Menno Singers in an outdoor rehearsal at Pioneer Park Christian Fellowship Church, Kitchener, Ont., last fall. (Menno Singers photo)

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