Monday, April 8, 2019

25th Anniversary of the BPOC

The 25th Anniversary Season of the Buchanan Park Opera Club has arrived and performances will take place in the first week of May. I was, as some readers will know, for 13 seasons the Maestro and Chorus Master of the BPOC. It was a volunteer position and one I was happy to fill. My time as a Music Teacher was past when I arrived at Buchanan Park but the musical education of children is of great value and I believe my contribution there benefited hundreds of children.

I had very little to do with the preparation of the first production as I was preoccupied with learning my real job as a Grade 3 teacher. I knew what an opera conductor was supposed to do. Unfortunately, aside from Dawn, nobody else did. I remember waving my arms and attempting to conduct the Grand March from Aida. The orchestra consisted of a piano and three trumpeters wearing elephant trunk masks. More than one hundred children made their way into the theatre (i.e. the gym) during the introduction. One of my own students stood directly behind me and, as the singing started (Glory to Egypt) he let fly loudly with the appropriate words and rhythm but with pitches which had nothing whatever to do with the melody. It was an alarming foreshadowing of what was to come. None of the performers had ever worked with a conductor before and they paid me very little heed but we all persevered. By the time the preparations for the next year’s show rolled around I made sure it didn’t happen again. I spent hundreds of hours working with kids in preparation for the opera and teaching choral music over the time I taught at Buchanan Park School.

It was a couple of years before I suggested to Dawn Martens, pianist and artistic director, that it might be helpful if we started a choir. The children could learn better how to learn music by rote (few of them could read music at all) and how to work with a conductor (i.e. me). We did that, preparing and performing Christmas music each fall. Beginning in February we started to learn properly the chorus music for that year’s production and whatever Festival selections were appropriate. For more than 10 years we had an excellent Junior School Choir and won accolades where ever the choir sang. We took Gold and Silver awards at the Toronto and Hamilton Kiwanis Festivals and always won Gold at the HWDSB’s annual Choral Fest.


I interview Dawn for my blog some years ago and asked her for amusing anecdotes. She could come up with very few and I realized that I hadn’t many either. As many hours as I put in working on “the opera” she spent many, many more. We were too busy doing that, while at the same time doing our actual jobs, to take much notice. And the children picked up how seriously the adults treated the work of preparation. Any serious stage production, especially one involving children, requires lots and lots of advanced work and as silly as doing Grand Opera with children seems, we always took it seriously. Unforeseeable events are a given but the readier one is the less frequently they happen and, when they do, the more likely is everyone to cope.

Dawn and me during Romeo and Juliet.
I'm holding a William Shakespeare puppet.

I suppose many people were surprised when I retired and told them I wouldn’t continue working with Dawn at BP as a volunteer. It was her project and, as willing as I had been to help, she’d done it before I arrived and I knew that she could continue to do so. I stopped going to performances once the children I knew had moved on to Middle School.

This year, though, I’ll be there on Thursday morning for the Dress Rehearsal. A 25th Anniversary is a special occasion and teachers don’t go on forever.

The little boy who couldn’t sing in tune in the Aida chorus is, incidentally, working for an airline as a Commercial Pilot. I don’t know whether he ever learned to sing in tune but I’ll bet he remembers Aida.


  1. Very enjoyable post, David. I’m sure you inspired many children over the years. Your passion for music shines through in your writing , Judy Batte