New men’s choir in Peace River hopes to be an important witness for men in the church

Excitement is growing around a new men’s choir established at Our Lady of Peace in Peace River.

The choir was envisioned and initiated by pastor Fr. Nel Esguerra, who hopes this men’s choir will prove beneficial not just in the realm of music and liturgy.

“The dream is not just to have a choir, but for this to be a good way of bridging the gap between men. We don’t always see men getting together in the parish. We have the Knights of Columbus of course, but not everyone is a knight,” he said. “So I hope this choir can start something in forming a sense of brotherhood and bridge the gap between the different age groups of men in our parish and bring them together.

“We’ll start with singing, and see what other fruits we can harvest from this choir.”

Fr. Nel Esguerra organized the choir for their initial practice in October.

Fr. Nel got the idea one evening while watching a performance of a Welsh men’s choir on the show Britain’s Got Talent.

“The group had younger men, older men, middle-aged men, and they all sounded really good,” he said. “When you look at our choirs here, they are mostly composed of women. So I kept thinking while watching the video, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if I had something like this in the parish, a group of men singing together – especially during the Mass?’”

He let the idea ferment in his mind for some time before finally mentioning it to Our Lady of Peace’s musical coordinator Sandy Belanger.

She suggested they advertise the choir in their bulletins and Mass announcements and see what response comes back. Fr. Nel also started approaching men he knew well in the parish, gauging their interest.

The priest admits he had to twist a few arms too, as some men were very hesitant about singing in the shower – let alone singing front and center in the liturgy.

Taking the time to personally approach men of the parish proved the most successful form of recruitment. Fr. Nel managed to get ten men willing to join for the initial practice on Oct. 18th. Amongst them were men in their early 30s all the way to men in their late 70s.

Members debuted the choir at the evening Mass on Saturday, Nov. 4th.

As the choir continues, Fr. Nel hopes to approach some high school seniors who he thinks may be interested.

“That personal approach has worked really well. I’ve encouraged the men to give it a try, attend a practice and see for themselves,” he said. “A few guys were quite hesitant, but thank God most of them were willing to come out.”

At the first practice two men were appointed to lead the group due to their previous musical experience and backgrounds. The choir leaders are Brock Whalen, a teacher at Glenmary Catholic School who directs the school band and runs several other music programs, and Chris Flynn, a retired teacher who has more than 14 years experience leading a church choir at his former home parish of St. Stephen’s Catholic Church in Stephenville, Newfoundland.

Whalen’s musical training goes back to his earliest years, when he began piano lessons at age four. As a music teacher, he has come to be proficient in many instruments and has taught a multitude of music programs at Glenmary for the past five years.

“I’m going to try and have both young and old involved, because I think this is a good ministry for our men to be visibly part of the Mass and part of the Church,” Fr. Nel said. “For the most part, the stereotype is men are in the background. So this will add an additional atmosphere to the parish – showing that men of all ages are engaged with the Mass in this very upfront way. It’s exciting to see it come together.”

This is only an excerpt. Read the full story in the November 2023 edition of Northern Light