York music professors celebrate new recordings with local concerts

Lovers of chorale music have a treat in store this weekend, thanks to the work of two York music professors. Karen Burke’s Toronto Mass Choir and Stephanie Martin’s choirs of the Church of Saint Mary are offering special concerts to launch new recordings, just in time for the gift-giving season.

The Gallery Choir, Schola Magdalena and Ritual Choir of Toronto’s Church of Saint Mary Magdalene join forces under Martin’s baton on Nov. 20 to celebrate the launch of her CD, Alleluia. The recording features the choirs performing new sacred choral works composed by Martin. The launch event does double duty as the premiere public screening of a new Bravo!FACT video of Schola Magdalena performing Martin’s composition Alleluia.

Martin’s new compositions are predominately a cappella works, set to texts derived from the Psalms, the Mass and the evening service of Benediction, with anthems and motets in English and Latin. Martin composed these works with the choirs of the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene in mind.

The choirs have released several previous recordings with Martin, who serves as the music director for the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene, following in the footsteps of renowned Canadian composer Healey Willan (1880 – 1968), who is a subject of her ongoing research, (see YFile, Nov. 12, 2009).

Martin’s concert, CD and video launch, emceed by Larry Beckwith, takes place Saturday Nov. 20 at 3pm at St. Mary Magdalene Church, 477 Manning Ave. (at Ulster). Admission is $25 at the door, and includes a reception following the performance and screening. Proceeds from the event will benefit the Healey Willan Music Fund.

The following day, Nov. 21, brings Burke’s CD release concert with the Toronto Mass Choir (TMC). A Christmas Gift is TMC’s  Juno Award-winning seventh full-length recording and its first Christmas CD. The album offers a mix of classic carols such as Joy to the World, We Three Kings and Silent Night, refreshed with new arrangements along with several contemporary Christmas standards and original tracks. Five-time Grammy winner Carvin Winans is one of several talented guest soloists who grace the recording with their powerful voices.

“We’ve been talking about recording a Christmas album for years, and with Roy Oommen and Corey Butler on board as co-producers, the time was finally right,” says Burke, co-founder and director of TMC. “This is the first Christmas CD recorded by a contemporary gospel choir in Canada and we’re very excited to share the material that we’ve been working so hard on over the last year.”

At the CD launch event, the choir will perform songs from the album, showcasing authentically orchestrated arrangements set in a variety of musical genres from jazz to reggae to “foot-stompin” gospel. The concert will feature an all-star rhythm section, children’s choir, guest soloists and a special appearance by Canadian recording artist Mark Masri, who will recreate his powerful lead in Don’t Save It All for Christmas Day. The 30 singers in the choir include a number of York students who also sing in the York University Gospel Choir, likewise founded and directed by Burke.

The TMC concert takes place Sunday, Nov. 21, at 7pm at Agincourt Pentecostal Church, 2885 Kennedy Rd. (Kennedy & Finch), in Scarborough. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children under 12. Tickets are available at the door or in advance at the Ticket Window website.