The combination of alto, tenor and baritone voices rise and fall, leaving few dry eyes in the audience and on stage.
There’s something about the male voice that strikes emotion from within. It’s been scientifically proven that the lower register can soothe a fetus while in the womb, and there’s a reason why male politicians try to speak in less shrill tones. (Just look at what happened to former U.S. politician Howard Dean when he let out that “scream” when he ran for the Democratic leadership in 2004.)
World renowned and decorated choir leader Diane Loomer has seen the savage beast tamed by her Chor Leoni (Choir of Lions), the all-male group she founded in 1992, and now serves as its artistic director and conductor.
“There’s a sense of trust compassion and understanding that comes from a lower-pitch voice,” said Loomer, who leads the choir to Vernon for two performances Saturday, April 2.
“They say, scientifically, the sound waves are slower, which can cause a visceral, gut feeling. There is definitely a connection, and it may come the womb itself, to this wonderful connection with sound.”
Chor Leoni members can roar when it’s required of them, however, their emotive singing has been known to strike such a response, especially at their annual Remembrance Day performances, that a hankie is often required. And even the men on stage have been known to shed a few tears while singing.
“Men can get emotional. Part of it is that (the choir) gathers men of that persuasion, who feel the music and get into the emotions of it… Sometimes, I lose it too,” said Loomer.
What the choir has been doing well for the past two decades is breaking down that fourth wall that separates the audience from performer, she added.
“We make a conversation happen by surrounding people in sound, and making the text feel exclusive to an audience so they will relate.”
Don’t get the Order of Canada recipient wrong. Loomer admires, and knows the ins and outs of all voice types. The multi-award winner, clinician and former professor in the music faculty at the University of B.C. has led seniors, youth and women in song.
She is the co-founder/conductor of the Elektra Women’s Choir, leads the mature members of EnChor, and is the first woman to ever conduct the National Youth Choir of Canada. She has also led the provincial youth and honour choirs in every province in Canada.
However, she can’t help but have a special place in her heart for her “Lions.” After all, having 50 men at her beck and call definitely has its perks.
And there’s also the other man in her life, husband Richard, who has been by her side for 47 years.
An orthopaedic surgeon, Richard also sings in the group, which is handy if anyone, while on tour, was to break a bone.
“Luckily no one has so far,” laughed Loomer.
“He’s immersed in science, while I am in the arts, but we can relate when it comes to dealing with people. We have a good relationship that’s based on respect. If I’d been a servile surgeon’s wife, I would have been gone long ago, but he encouraged me to follow my passion and pursue music.”
The same goes for the members of Chor Leoni, who Loomer says are a dream to work with. Her best asset, she says, is anticipating their needs.
“They are in so many ways boys. They love to play and be challenged,” she said, adding the men always immerse themselves in the task at hand, whether learning a slow-moving motet, or peppy folk song, performing at home, or in a world famous concert hall.
“The choir has already developed its own identity. We make sure we are always delivering, and try to stay fresh with new ways of looking at the music. The repertoire for men’s choir is not vast, so you have to have an instrument that plays the song well.”
And a few drinking songs never hurt as well, she added.
The choir will get that chance when it gives a June performance, Bard Boyz, at Vancouver’s Bard on the Beach, which Loomer calls the Reader’s Digest version of Chor Leoni.
Knowing the inevitable retirement from conducting her many groups will have to come eventually, Loomer says she is concentrating on getting ready for Chor Leoni’s 20th anniversary season. It starts next year with a tour and competition in Italy, as well as the group’s annual spring, Remembrance Day and winter solstice performances.
However, Loomer is not adverse to opening the door for possible guest conductors in the future.
“Sometimes I feel like I could do this forever, and other days, I can’t seem to get up, but that’s what it’s like when you’re older and wiser,” she said.
“People have often said, if I could do this over again, what would I do? Without question, I would have studied coaching. I like to bring people to the peak of their performance, establish a sense of discipline, and get them to establish their own goals. There’s a real science to it. You definitely need to know what to expect and know when you are asking too much.”
Somewhere out there a pride of lions is thinking Loomer has already reached those goals.
Chor Leoni performs in the last of the North Okanagan Community Concert Association season with two concert Saturday, April 2 at 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. in the Performing Arts Centre. Single tickets are $35, $17.50 for students under 18, at the Ticket Seller, 549-7469, www.ticketseller.ca.