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Sweet sound of global success

Members of the Newman Sound Men's Choir pictured at the World Choir Championships.


By Janet Harron

Keith Matthews, senior administrative officer in the School of Music, is on a musically-induced high. Mr. Matthews, a member of the Newman Sound Men's Choir, and his fellow choir members were in Cincinnati, Ohio, recently when the singing group was named best choir in the world in their category at the World Choir Games.

The first Canadian choir to win the competition, Newman Sound performed four diverse songs (one Canadian, two Latin and one Finnish) at the competition in order to best demonstrate the breadth of their musicality and to highlight their varied singing techniques.

"The standards of Newman Sound were particularly high for this concert," said Mr. Matthews, who joined the choir in 2011 and has worked at the School of Music for five years. "Kelly Walsh and David Chafe really raised the bar for this performance — we achieved a level of perfection I don't think I've experienced before."

Mr. Matthews was quick to point out the in-house expertise that Newman Sound was fortunate to utilize.

"Dr. Jane Leibel, a faculty member and diction coach, came to two of our practices to teach us how to use our bodies as instruments – that was really helpful."

Mastering the proper diction for the Finnish song in particular was a challenge, according to Mr. Matthews. An expert in Finnish was brought in to teach the choir the appropriate pronunciations.

Co-artistic directors Kellie Walsh and David Chafe are alumni of the School of Music. Jenn Hart, assistant conductor, is the school's concerts and facilities co-ordinator and is currently on leave pursuing a master of choral conducting degree.

The games are organized into open and champion categories. Choirs who have received gold medals in past games automatically qualify for the champion category – other choirs can challenge for a space by persuading a panel of three judges from Hungary, Russia and China that they can compete at the next level. Which is exactly what Newman Sound did.

"None of us really knew how we would do — but we did know the reputation of some of the other choirs, like the Peking University Men's Chamber Choir," Mr. Matthews said. "I remember Kelly telling us that to beat them we were going to have to put our hearts and souls into it and really move the audience. We also knew we would have to be essentially perfect in terms of tuning and rhythm."
The Chinese choir ultimately came in second to Newman Sound.

Dr. Ellen Waterman, dean, School of Music, heartily congratulated all the participants.

And of Mr. Matthews she enthused: "Now that's taking your job seriously – to run operations at the School of Music and also distinguish yourself as a world class