Bishop Ryan’s ‘rock show choir’ going for gold

  • April 13, 2013

Students from Hamilton, Ont.’s Bishop Ryan Catholic Secondary School are going for gold — again — at this year’s Heritage Music Festival May 1 to 5.

Held annually in different cities in the United States, this year’s singing competition is in New York City, and Bishop Ryan is sending four buses of students to perform in the contemporary show choir category.

The 200-strong crew of singers and band members, including the 40-member Celtic Fusion instrumental concert band, won gold at last year’s competition in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

“We call ourselves B.R. Xpression vocal ensemble, but we’re really like a contemporary rock show choir. Every year we take on a different theme. This year our theme is gone but not forgotten,” said Dave Tabone, head of arts and music director at Bishop Ryan. B.R. Xpression has been running since he became department head in 1998.

Students usually join B.R. Xpression in Grade 9 and stick with it until they graduate. Auditions are not required for the general choir, but soloists must audition and continuous attendance at practice is mandatory.

“We’re a really, really unique ensemble because... there’s no groups that have a massive contemporary rock choir like us. So we have about 12 to 13 soloists who get featured in front of our main group, and then we have a live band that gets featured as well, with guitar solos, etc.,” said Tabone.

Grade 12 student Sandro Mastromatteo, who’s been playing the guitar for about seven years, is a guitarist this year for the group after three years of singing in the choir.

“I heard that the music program was amazing here (at Bishop Ryan). That’s actually the main reason why I came here,” said Mastromatteo, who’s been to Nashville, Chicago and Myrtle Beach with B.R. Xpression.

For students thinking about attending the school, Mastromatteo says, “Go for it... It’s amazing. Tabone and all the other music teachers are really into music and it just gets everyone else going. It’s awesome.”

Including Tabone, there are 10 teachers and volunteer assistants.

“We build a community of fellowship that can only be described as a family,” said Tabone. “Many of our graduating students shed tears after our final concert together each year.”

Some of the students that join the group have attended the B.R. Junior Xpression, a feeder choir of elementary students that Tabone’s wife, Mary, directs at the high school. It’s a 100-voice choir made up of kids from Grades 5 to 8. They perform at charity events with the senior choir, and will be performing with B.R. Xpression at the group’s two-day gala on April 17 and 18 at Carmen’s Banquet Hall in Hamilton.

“We try to bring in 1,000 people each night,” said Tabone. “We bring in students during the day to watch our performances. About 3,500 students (are) attending this year.”

They have two matinee concerts scheduled and two evening shows for parents, friends and community members.

This September, the faculty and student body of Bishop Ryan is scheduled to move into a new building.

“We’re getting a brand new school, and they’ve invested millions of dollars into our arts program,” said Tabone.

He’s looking forward to the “gorgeous theatre with balcony.”

“Because of the success of our program, the school board (and) the trustees really gave the green light to our developers (and) architects to build us a really nice arts wing.”

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