BRANT MEN OF SONG
Bob MacMillan & Larry Marsh
began in the Brantford Golf and Country Club
parking lot. Bob McIntosh and Frank Holton were
both leaving the club house when McIntosh approached
Holton with a proposal that he conduct a new
choir. Frank was agreeable as long as his duties
were only musical Bob and his associates were
happy to handle the administration and so the
longest running choir in the history of Brantford was
born: no small feat in a community that has been
called the "City of Choirs".
McIntosh was a young clarinet and saxophone player
just beginning his law career. Late in 1960,
he set up a practice in Brantford and
a residence in Mount
Pleasant where he began
barbershop singing at the Octagon house. He,
Art Bennett, Herb Lacy and Ed Plant: all wanted
to expand their musical repertoire to include
songs from Broadway musicals.
Holton was at this time phasing out his involvement
in choirs. He had founded the Cockshutt Male
Choir in 1935 followed by the Universal Ladies
Choir in 1936. These had been followed by the
Universal Mixed Choir, the CKPC Choir and the
Frank Holton Mixed Choir. However, by 1961, Frank's
involvement in musical education in the schools
was increasingly absorbing his time and he had
phased out the Frank Holton Mixed Choir, but
he was not averse to conducting the new choir
as long as he did not have to handle the administration.
By 1968, even this limited function would be
too much and Frank would relinquish his conducting
duties with the Men of Song, as it was then called.
But for now, he was happy to accept the offer.
was agreed that the choir would be about sixteen
members and would not enter the competition circuit.
The music was to be a blend of sacred music,
show tunes with a dash of semi-classical. A list
of prospective choir members was drawn up. They
were voice tested by Holton and at the October
2, 1961 meeting sixteen successful applicants
formed the original choir.
came a new name for the choir. Hereus Choir,
The Canadairs, The Holton Male Chorus, The Holton
Choristers were tossed around. Frank wanted to
call the choir the Song Men. It is a mark of
the man that a male chorus from Toronto called
The Song Men had repeatedly beaten his Cockshutt
Male Chorus in competition and so he wanted to
honour them by naming the new choir after them.
However, copyright law said it was not to be
and so the name became Men of Song. This name
would last until after both Bob McIntosh and
Frank Holton had left the choir and it had changed
asked a high school student, sixteen year old
Jim Hibbard who was already an accomplished piano
and organ player to be accompanist. He later
went to the University of Western
Ontario and on to a flourishing
career in London Ontario.
Although none of the four originators had sang
previously under Holton others made the transfer
from Frank's earlier choirs. Laverne Jones had
sung with the Cockshutt Male Choir indeed he
had been a soloist. George Sherrell had sung
in the Universal Mixed Choir and Harold Edgar
in the Frank Holton Choir.
enough the Men of Song sang their first performance
on March 25, 1962 not in Brantford but
at Wesley United Church in
Galt as Cambridge was
then known. Brantford had
to wait until March 31, for the second concert
at the Y's Men's Club in Brantford.
early as 1965, Frank Holton, his duties in the
public school system becoming heavier, was asking
that a replacement be considered. In September
of 1966, the pressures of his law practice caused
Bob Mclntosh to resign. In September of 1967,
Jim Hibbard resigned to pursue his studies. Finally
in September 1968, Frank Holton, after several
requests to be relieved of his duties, resigned.
Schofield, a tenor in the choir, took over as
a temporary conductor. His stint lasted until
1975. George Sherrell became President and it
appears that Bruce Johnson became accompanist.
He was replaced in 1971 by Gary Woodward who
was organist at Marlborough United Church.
new leadership, the choir took a new direction.
It became much larger and moved toward a greater
association with other choirs. It won first place
at the Greater Toronto Kiwanis Music Festival
in 1970. Although it was the only choir in the
division it had to earn enough points to be given
the honour. In 1971 it joined the Associated
Male Choruses of America and on April 28, 1973
played host to an Associated Male Choruses of
America "Big Sing", at the
Civic Centre. Twelve choirs from Michigan, New
York, Ohio, Ontario and Pennsylvania participated.
between 1969 and 1973 the name of the choir was
changed to The Brant Men of Song and an LP, The
Brant Men of Song was produced.
period also saw the birth of the Brant Belle
'A' Dears. On a bus ride back from a District
Sing some of the wives of the Brant Men of Song
thought that they would like to form a choir.
In March of 1971, Della Sherrell, wife of George,
and George's sister Iris Norton held a meeting
at the Sherrell house. The result was the Belle
'A' Dears. Initially Jim Schofield took on the
duties of Choir Director and Gary Woodward was
the accompanist. Then in the spring of 1973
Woodward became Director and Sheelagh Jackson
was hired as accompanist.
most of their existence, the two choirs have
been separated administratively but combined
musically. The result is, in effect, three choirs:
a male chorus, a lady's choir and a mixed choir.
1975 Gary Woodward added the Brant Men of Song
to his duties as director and Patricia Bohemier,
became accompanist for both choirs. Perhaps it
was because of wanderlust on the part of Woodward
but more likely it was his administration skills
that made this the time of the two choirs' most
proposal to have a tour of the British
Isles was made in 1974 and over the
next two years the choirs raised about $48,000
through a remarkable fundraising program that
included member payments, concerts, merchandise,
bazaars and grants.
July 2 and July 3 1976 two groups left on Wardair
flights for Gatwick (London)
to begin a three week tour of Britain.
For Gary Woodward and Sharon Wiley now Woodward,
this was their honeymoon as they were married
at Marlborough United Church just
a few days previous to departure.
first stop was Ebbw Vale, home area of choir
member Graham Morgan. The community's church
bells rang out a welcome as the buses arrived.
That evening the Brant Men of Song and the Brant
Belle' A' Dears opened their concert, which was
emceed by Mel Plant, with the Welsh National
Anthem which they had practiced diligently before
arriving. The concert was followed by a luncheon
after which the Ebbw Male Chorus entertained
the Canadians in an "Afterglow".
tour continued through Conventry, Chesterfield,
and Keswick in England and Edinburgh,
Largs and Ayr in Scotland and
the Ambleside Festival. The Tithebarn Methodist Church in
Keswick was so small that Woodward had to conduct
the choirs from the second pew.
1977, the choirs stayed home where the Brant
Men of Song hosted a "Mini Sing" of district
choirs at St. Michael's Place to celebrate Brantford's
saw the choirs off on a tour again, this
time through Western Canada.
The tour of the Prairie
Provinces and British
Columbia was more
for pleasure than for business. While the
choirs touched down in Winnipeg
and Calgary and
toured through the Rocky Mountains to Vancouver
and Victoria, they held concerts only in
Selkirk, Winnipeg and
Parksville on Vancouver
Island. The concert at St Vital
United Church in Winnipeg was
special for Pat Bohemier as this was the
church she grew up in. Her mother attended
the concert, perhaps better described as
a church service in a kind of cantata. Pat
played the piano while Gary Woodward played
July of 1981, the choirs were back on the road,
this time touring the Maritimes. This time the
was much more ambitious with stops in Halifax,
Pictou and Baddec in Nova
Scotia, Kensington in Prince
Edward Island and St Andrews in New
two choirs' final tour was to Florida, USA,
in 1984 singing in Holiday, Mease Manor and Fruitland Park.
among these tours and continuing long after them
were numerous Associated Male Choruses of America "Big
favourite among the various destinations
for these was Wellsboro in Pennsylvania.
1986, the Brant Men of Song celebrated their
25th anniversary and Brantford celebrated
with them. Brantford Parks made a floral display
at Cenotaph Park on Brant
Avenue. The design
was by George Sherrell. The Expositor devoted
a half page spread on them. Strangely, the Brant
Men of Song did not highlight their anniversary
with a concert of their own, but instead accepted
an invitation from the Wellsboro Men's Chorus
to participate in their Ruby Jubilee in Wellsboro
Pennsylvania U.S.A. For some time Gary Woodward
who was also Head of the Art Department at Herman Fawcett High
School had been working
through a supervisor training program which often
meant he had to attend classes out of town. Finally
it happened in 1987 that he had to attend classes
in St. Catherines on the same night as choir
practice. Rather than disrupting everyone's schedule
by changing the practice night, he resigned and
Pat Bohemier took over directorship of both the
Brant Men of Song and the Brant Belle 'A' Dears.
Elsie Hall who had been an accompanist for the
Cockshutt Male Choir became accompanist for both
arrangement did not last very long. Bohemier
was also teaching at St.
John's College and
Hall had just assumed Secretary-Treasurer for
the Kiwanis Festival. The work loads were too
and Hall accidently met Adera Holton in a mall
parking lot: another parking lot turning point.
They asked Adera if Frank would assume directorship
of both choirs. Instead Frank and Adera joined
forces with Frank again becoming conductor of
the Brant Men of Song and Adera holding the same
position for the Brant Belle 'A' Dears. John
Anderson became accompanist for the Brant Men
of Song and Marilyn accompanist for the Brant
Belle 'A' Dears.
was one of the most enjoyable two years in Frank's
career. He was to recall later. Their first Spring
Concert which occurred at Colborne
Street (now Heritage) United Church was
one of the most gratifying that Frank ever had.
Everything dovetailed perfectly and after one
song Frank savoured the delight that ''the choir
had not missed a note."
Frank Holton again retired from the choir there
were two Directors: Geoffery Bullivant and Raymond
1996, Scott Millward, an organist for thirty-five
years and an organist and Choir Director of St
James Anglican Church in Paris for
28 years, took over duties as Director of the
Brant Men of Song and in 1997 assumed the same
duties for the Belle' A' Dears.
While Scott says that "for the first
little while, it was just maintain the status quo
and try to build numbers in the MOS," he did
bring new ideas during his tenure as Director.
1. 'CABARET' - as a new spring show
and dinner format that proved to be very successful
and well received by all.
2. 'ANNUAL CHARITY EVENT' - a fall show designed to
showcase talent of all ages in and around the Brantford
and surrounding area. This event was extremely well
received and successful, as much money and food were
donated to charities through this show.
3. 'VALENTINES SHOW' - this show also proved for the
most part, to be well received (sold out each year)
and a great fundraiser.
4. 'GOSPEL CONCERT' - though Scott departed before
he could conduct this concert, Amy Groleau continued
Scott's work, for the pleasure of an appreciative audience.
During Scott's tenure, the Men of Song travelled to
Welsboro, Pennsylvania for a Big-sing, and participated
in a number of "sings", mostly in Ontario.
He says, "I was pleased with the quality of work
that the Men were doing when I left and I know that
their dedication was there for the Men..."
As of February 2008, Amy Groleau
assumed the position of Director as well as accompanist.
Amy brings twelve years of experience in men's
choral music in Brantford. Members are fortunate
to have a director as dedicated and accomplished
as Ms. Groleau.
Amy continued Scott's work, and brought forth
some changes of her own. In her first year, the
Men of Song did performances at Valentines Day,
a Gospel Concert, Cabaret, at Flamboro Downs, at
Harmony Square, the Brantford Airport, Charity
Show, and Christmas Show. The group joined the
reorganized Associated Male Choruses of Ontario
in a Big-sing in St. Catharines, and participated
with AMCO choruses at the Prince of Wales horse
race in Toronto. For the 2008 Christmas Show Amy
forged a link with the Brantford Symphony for future
years when a brass ensemble played with the Men
of Song and Belle A Dears. Amy showed confidence
and skill in her duo role of Director/Accompianist.
many ways the Brant Men of Song have returned
to their roots. Outside events have helped to
precipitate this. The Associated of Male Choruses
of American went bankrupt and has yet to recover.
The Associated Male Choruses of Ontario has become
less active. At the same time the Brant Men of
Song and the Brant Belle' A' Dears have refocused
on entertaining people in Brant County and
surrounding communities. The two choirs have
been able to create a flexible program in which
audiences are treated to the music of a male
chorus, a ladies chorus and a mixed choir. The
music continues to be a versatile mix of sacred,
folk, show, movie and popular music with a dash
of classical. The two choirs have established
a schedule which includes a charity concert which
doubles as a showcase for emerging Brant County
talent, a Christmas Concert, a spring concert
for the Belle' A' Dears and a Cabaret for the
Brant Men of Song.
Bill Schatz was appointed Director of the Brant Men of Song in 2011, and Amy continued in her role as Accompianist. Bill began his music career early, with organ, piano and voice lessons under Harry Urstadt. Before attending the University of Western Ontario. Bill's music traiing involved extensive world-wide travel. He has done CBC and CTV recordings with the Cambridge Kiwanis Boys Choir, and the K-W Symphony, as well as CD recordings with teh CKBC, the Renaissance Singers Arcady, and the Brott Festival Choir. He has appeared as a solo performer with these groups. Bill was the Musical Director for hte Kitchener-Waterloo Singers, an amateur choir in the KW area for nearly 10 years. He is now the Head of the Arts Department at Pauline Johnson Collegiate & Vocational School in Brantford.
attendance at the concerts suggests that the
two choirs have worked out a winning formula.