Can't find a chant choir? Well, start your own

By 
  • February 9, 2011
Surinder MundraTORONTO - Looking for a choir to join, Surinder Mundra couldn’t find what he was looking for. He went to one Mass where the choir was singing Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” during the homily. In contrast, during the drive home from Mass, he was listening to Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, a composer of sacred music in the Renaissance.

“It was backwards,” the concert pianist, piano teacher, organist and music director at both St. Patrick’s Church in Toronto and St. Georges Anglican Church in Pickering, Ont., told The Catholic Register. “I was listening to secular music in a Church. I had to leave the Church, go into my car and drive home to listen to liturgical music.”

Disillusioned by this, along with the emphasis that many parish choirs have on performance instead of spirituality, Mundra decided to start his own choir. In 2006, he founded St. Patrick’s Gregorian Choir, which specializes in Gregorian chants in its proper liturgical context. One of the only of its kind in Toronto, the choir currently has 15 members.

“The Church considers Gregorian chants... as the proper official music of the Catholic Mass and Catholic liturgy,” said Mundra, who discovered this through reading both older and more recent Church documents, material on music from the Council of Trent and Sacrosanctum, a music ministry related document from Vatican II.

“In the Church, music holds a very important function because essentially what it should be doing is it should draw people towards a greater reverence towards the Blessed Sacrament at Holy Mass so they can go out into the world and be good Catholics.”

And once he started the choir, he began to learn a lot more about his Catholic faith, he said.

“The chants themselves are very steeped in Scripture and in Christ and the words are very important so when you begin to sing this music it sort of elevates the Sacred Scripture into something even more... What this music has essentially done is made me more aware of what it is to be Catholic. And it has certainly done that for the singers.”

Choir member Eva Lagan said Gregorian chant always inspired her as a form of musical devotion.

“Since being a member I have grown not only in my musical ability, but also in humility, patience and self-discipline,” she said.

“My prayer life and love of the Eucharist has also intensified.”

The choir has sung at many traditional Latin Masses across the city, including Masses at Holy Cross and St. Theresa’s parishes. It sings regularly at the 5 p.m. Mass at St. Patrick’s and has been invited to sing at an evening prayer service at St. George’s Memorial Anglican Church in Oshawa, Ont.

The choir has also attracted many people from across the city, said Mundra.

“Many of its members come from as far west as Etobicoke to the east end of Durham,” he said. “Interestingly, the choir has been of particular interest to non-Catholics, including a few Buddhists and atheists.”

Made up of amateurs, it is open to anyone as long as they are a music enthusiast and have a decent voice, he said.

“I’m teaching them how to sing, teaching them proper vocal technique and teaching them how to read the notation.”

Mundra is also starting Friends of the Ancient Arts, or Artis Antiqua Amicis, which will be made up of an ensemble of instrumentalists at St. Patrick’s playing sacred orchestral music as it would originally have been performed for Church celebrations.

“If I wanted to listen to the vespers of Monteverdi, I would have to go to a concert and I would have to pay,” he said. “But they weren’t originally written for that. They were written for Church.”

For more information on St. Patrick’s Gregorian Choir or Friends of the Ancient Arts, contact Mundra at (416) 731-4485 or surindersmundra@rogers.com.

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