University of Guelph Chamber Singers

“Your marvellous choir sound!” That’s how the University of Guelph Chamber Singers impressed the audition jury of the Mosbach International Chamber Choir Competition. This success led to an invitation to fly to Germany this April as one of only six choirs chosen – and the only one from North America. The judges for this event will be the world-renowned conductors Frieder Bernius and Marcus Creed.

For the 26 singers in the choir and conductor Marta McCarthy, School of Fine Arts and Music, this is an exciting opportunity to perform in an exclusive setting and broaden their cultural horizons.

A chamber choir, McCarthy explains, simply means a small choir of less than 40 members. The U of G chamber singers include 14 men and 13 women; the longest-standing participant is bachelor of arts and science program advisor Jerome Chang, and the two newest are undergrad Tyler Myles and post-doc Ben Wright.

Like all U of G choirs, the chamber singers are committed to contributing to their community in meaningful ways. In addition to their regular concert series, each year they participate in fundraising concerts for charities such as the United Way, the Alzheimer’s Society, the AIDS Candlelight Vigil, St. Joseph’s Health Centre and Haiti relief.

The U of G singers were recommended to Mosbach organizer Christof Roos by Leonard Ratzlaff, who was one of the judges when the Guelph singers won the collegiate category of the 2011 National Radio Competition for Amateur Choirs. McCarthy secured the invitation by helping the choir prepare an audition CD that met the requirements for three contrasting pieces recorded within the last two years.

The CD was a hit.  In fact, Roos told McCarthy: “Your choir will compete very well among the other choirs. We are very proud to be presenting a choir coming from so far to our public. The other choirs will all come from Europe.”

Of course, being accepted into a competition like this is just the first step. McCarthy had to develop a repertoire of songs that followed the guidelines. Each choir has to prepare both a first-round program and a second-round program. All will compete in the first round, but only three of the six will go on to the second round.

“There is a compulsory song for each round that all the choirs have to do,” says McCarthy. “That gives them a standard to compare against.” Choirs must also do a song in each program that dates back to before the 1800s.

McCarthy has added a Canadian song to each of her programs. “I feel that if we are coming so far, we should offer them something unique, something Canadian,” she says. The Canadian pieces will be The Solo by Ruth Watson Henderson and O Magnum Mysterium by Jeff Enns.

The choir is delighted to represent U of G in this competition. McCarthy says she and the students are especially grateful for the financial support of the College of Arts dean’s office, which underscores the value of this exceptional learning experience. “We will be able to hear other fine choirs, and hear many songs that will be new to us. The Russian choir, for example, will probably have a very different sound,” McCarthy says. “The opportunity to see people performing at a very high level is always valuable.”

If you’d like to have a sneak preview of their German performance, the choir is performing at Harcourt Memorial United Church on March 31 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 and will help to fund the costs of travelling to Germany. The women’s choir and the symphonic choir will also be performing. Email Vicki Isotamm at for tickets.

Click below to hear them sing O Magnum Mysterium.

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