For two decades, members of the WLU Alumni Choir have created music and memories in support of Wilfrid Laurier University, its students and each other.
“In 2021 we are still together, still making music and doing good things for the university we love,” says Laurier Chancellor Eileen Mercier (BA ’68, LLD ’13), a long-time and dedicated member of the choir.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the WLU Alumni Choir, which formed in 2001 after Faculty of Music Associate Professor Daniel Lichti suggested former members of Laurier's University Choir – a pan-university choir open to students from any program – come together to sing and establish an award in memory of much-loved former member Keith Knights. Since then, the choir has performed extensively while raising funds for student awards and boosting Laurier's profile in the wider community.
The choir's debut performance – to launch the Keith Knights Memorial Award – took place in May 2002, when 50 former University Choir members gathered to perform at Keffer Memorial Chapel in Martin Luther University College, then known as Waterloo Lutheran Seminary. The next year, members of the group decided to hold an annual concert in support of the award and officially chose the name "WLU Alumni Choir" in recognition of both Wilfrid Laurier University and its predecessor, Waterloo Lutheran University.
In the spirit of community and connection, members decided that the WLU Alumni Choir would continue the tradition of inclusivity of the original University Choir, welcoming alumni from all faculties who possess an interest in or love of choral music.
Throughout the years, the WLU Alumni Choir has proven a place for members to find fun, friendship and a lasting connection to Laurier. Members note that the bond shared by WLU Alumni Choir members is about more than singing – it is about a shared Laurier experience.
"Whenever we gather, it rekindles fond memories,” says choir member Douglas Wells (BA ’68). “The momentum of the choir continues and I enjoy the opportunity to sing at events. And it keeps members in contact with old and new musical friends."
Member Phil Poole (BA ’74) says singing in both the WLU Alumni Choir and the University Choir have served as pivotal experiences in his personal growth and development.
"Music has an ability to touch the soul in ways other things simply can’t," says Poole. "WLU gave me the opportunity to grow. The choir and the BA Music major gave me a self-assurance I had lacked to that point in my journey. I am certain my life would have taken a very different path if not for WLU and its incredible choir."
In 2005, the WLU Alumni Choir marked its first Homecoming reunion performance, an event that has grown to become an anticipated annual tradition. During Homecoming 2020, choir members participated in Zoom-based activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with 2007 Keith Knights Memorial Award winner Nathaniel Wiseman (BMus ’07) sending a musical offering from Israel.
"My memories of WLU Alumni Choir weekends, including Homecoming, speak to the power of music and its ability to raise spirits, build community and share beauty,” says choir member Gord Burnett (BMus ’81, OpDip ’82).
There have been many performance highlights over the years, including a 2004 presentation of Fauré’s Requiem; participating in a 2010 performance of Schubert’s Mass No. 6 in E flat major; a 2016 production of Mozart Mania to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Laurier's Faculty of Music; a 2016 performance at Mercier’s installation as Laurier’s chancellor; and a 2018 production of Handel’s Messiah in support of student scholarships.
The choir has also performed as part of Laurier's annual Homecoming football game, including a special performance of John Denver's Country Roads to honour former Golden Hawks football coach David "Tuffy" Knight. In 2011, the choir commissioned member Leonard Enns (BMus ’74) to compose a choral piece for Laurier’s centennial, which resulted in the song With Light Unfailing. Members also brought history to life by reviving a long-lost Laurier song with their recording of Laurier We Will Praise Thee Forever.
Members of the WLU Alumni Choir pictured during 2008 Homecoming celebrations.
Through fundraising concerts and personal donations, members of the WLU Alumni Choir, friends and supporters fund the Keith Knights Memorial Award and the WLU Alumni Choir Voice Performance Scholarship. The awards are presented each year to deserving music students who show outstanding talent and make an impact within both their peer group and the broader community.
– Bruce Armstrong
“We're most proud of the scholarships we've put in place,” says choir member Bruce Armstrong (BBA ’72). “Never in our wildest dreams when we started the awards did we feel we would raise as much money as we have. We thought we might raise $5,000 or $6,000 for a bursary. We have now raised in excess of $200,000, which is endowed and provides the funding for these annual awards. A total of 44 awards have been granted, totalling over $80,000 to date. And as we continue to give, the awards continue to grow.”
The latest project for the choir is fundraising to name a practice studio as part of Laurier's Making Space for Music campaign. The campaign aims to raise $15 million to renovate and expand Laurier's Waterloo campus Faculty of Music building, transforming it into an improved space for teaching, practicing, rehearsing and performing. The choir has so far raised more than $25,000 as part of the initiative.
“The fact that we can help the school by raising funds for scholarships and now practice facilities inside the new Savvas Chamberlain Music Building is a huge bonus," says Mercier. "Feel good and do good. What could be better?”
Current choir members say two individuals deserve special recognition for the roles they have played in keeping the WLU Alumni Choir connected and active: Kathy Mauer (BA ’72) and Armstrong.
“It is a credit to Kathy and to Bruce for keeping us in touch and giving us the opportunity to reconnect from time to time and to give back to the university that shaped us," says Poole. "It’s always a delight to hear from Kathy and to be transported back to the days when a small university barely the size of a large high school shaped our lives.
“I value the friendships made nearly 50 years ago more than I can say.”
No member of the WLU Alumni Choir expected to celebrate the choir’s 20th anniversary during a global pandemic. It has been tough not to be able to gather and sing in person, or to socialize with old friends. But members remain optimistic and excited about how far the choir has come and where it is going. Members say they are especially enthusiastic about welcoming new graduates as future members.
– Carolyn Neumann VanderBurgh
“The energy that sparks in the connections between generations sometimes surprises and always delights,” says choir member Carolyn McBean (BA ’72). “With millennial grads around and singing with us, there is a wondrous harmony and spirit – perhaps greater than either group could create alone.”
No matter what the future brings, members of the WLU Alumni Choir plan on sticking together, continuing a legacy of song, friendship, fundraising and creating lasting memories.
“Singing draws people together,” says Carolyn Neumann VanderBurgh (MBus ’95), who has served as choir conductor since 2012. “This is a key feature I have observed during my time with the choir. This is a group of people drawn together by a shared Laurier history and love for singing and contributing to community.”
Are you a recent Laurier graduate interested in learning more about the WLU Alumni Choir? Alumni from all years and programs are welcome. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit laurieralumni.ca for more information.