The History of the Toronto Concert Choir

The Toronto Concert Choir was created in April 2020 to carry on the tradition of choral singing at Ryerson by building on the legacy of the Oakham House Choir.

During its 35 years at Ryerson University, the choir received generous financial support and rehearsal space from the Palin Foundation, which funded the student centre, Oakham House and several student societies, including the choir. However, most of the foundation’s revenues come from the activity or “ancillary” fees, which were formerly paid by every student. After provincial legislation made many of those fees optional, the foundation’s revenues were no longer able to fund the choir.

Through its two major annual concerts, the Oakham House Choir gave Ryerson students and other members of the Ryerson community–alumni, faculty, and staff–as well as members of the larger community, the enriching experience of working together to learn and perform the masterpieces of the classical choral repertoire. This was the only campus group dedicated to bringing classical music to Ryerson students. At the same time, the choir’s concerts made high-quality, moderately priced performances available to Toronto music lovers.

The History of Oakham House Choir

The Oakham House Choir was established in 1984 by Professor Marie Dowler of the Ryerson English department and Matthew Jaskiewicz, a former conductor with the Warsaw Chamber Opera, who had just arrived in Canada as a political refugee.

In those early days, many of the members lacked extensive choral experience, though they made up for it with their enthusiasm. Mr. Jaskiewicz, who spoke no English, gave his instructions in French or Polish – several other Polish immigrants had joined the choir – and relied on someone to translate for him.

Despite those tentative beginnings, the choir grew steadily under Mr. Jaskiewicz’s direction. As its musical standards rose, its repertoire expanded to include many of the best-known choral masterpieces. Today the Oakham House Choir is a respected ensemble and an integral part of Toronto’s music scene.

Oakham House Choir regularly performs on the Ryerson campus and at many downtown churches and has appeared at other Greater Toronto Area venues, including Mississauga’s Living Arts Centre and the Toronto Centre for the Arts. The choir has also sung at Ryerson graduation ceremonies and has competed in the Kiwanis Festival.

The choir presented two concerts a year with the Toronto Sinfonietta chamber orchestra, which is also directed, and was founded by, Mr. Jaskiewicz.