In Montreal on June 1 with Audrey Dubois Harris for a signature moment in Gospel music for Montreal
Karen Burke and her husband Oswald know a thing or two about the power of Gospel music.
After all they have lived more than three decades engrossed in it at all levels: performing, creating, recording and teaching.
Along the way they’ve managed to build a powerful musical ministry, through which they share the messages of faith, hope and compassion.
Today, their creation, The Toronto Mass Choir, launched in 1988, stands as a testament of their creativity and their passion for a genre of music that has been the foundation of both their lives.
More than 30 years on, it is one of Canada’s longest running contemporary choirs with more than 12 albums to its credit, along with stacks of awards and commendations, highlighted by the Juno Award copped in 2003 for the Contemporary Christian/Gospel Album of the Year — Instrument of Praise.
Still, when the husband and wife team talk about their greatest satisfaction in their musical adventure so far, it is the impact they have had on the lives of the tens of thousands of gospel lovers across Canada and around the world with whom they have shared their message.
“As we travel to small towns across Canada and to countries like Poland, Romania, Hungary, Dominican Republic, Italy, the U.K., the U.S. Barbados and Trinidad, we’ve seen the power that gospel music has on those attending our concerts and workshops,” says Karen Burke, co-founder and director of the choir.
“It doesn’t matter where we sing, on the street or at the biggest venues people were always ready to receive the music and the word of the Lord.”
As such, “music missions” and travel have become an integral part of the TMC experience.
The choir, lunched in 1988 as part of a Gospel music initiative in Toronto, recorded its first album that year with about 100 voices.
However, once travelling became a regular part of the itinerary, its membership eventually leveled off to between 40 and 60, including musicians.
The early blueprint of the choir was framed by Burke and her husband, Oswald, who were both noted performers on the gospel circuit in and around Toronto in the early 1980s.
She was born in Brandford, Ontario, and grew up singing in a family ensemble called Winston and Johnson Family Choir; he, born in Jamaica, was the creative force behind the popular group, The Revivalaires.
Burke says, she and her husband used their complimentary skill set to build the TMC into the musical force that it is today, but it was not without its challenges.
Her training and abilities in music helped her groom singers, fashion the sound and conduct the choir while Oswald assumed management, technical and some of the creative responsibilities.
“We started at the beginning of the Gospel scene in Toronto, so we met more than a few obstacles, but when you trust the Lord, He makes things happen.”
Before long, the TMC established itself as one of Canada’s most sought-after choirs performing at music festivals and other events from one end of the country to the other, including at the Ottawa Bluesfest, Quebec’s La Festival de Musique Sacrée de Saint-Roch, the Toronto Jazz Festival, and a week-long jaunt in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
They also brought their inspirational and scintillating vibes to prestigious venues such as the Roy Thompson Hall, where they performed with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, as well as at the Hamilton Place with the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra, the Empire Club of Canada, and at the Gospel Music Workshop of America conventions in Washington, DC, Atlanta and Detroit.
The choir has also shared the stage with Gospel heavyweights such as Tramaine Hawkins, Wintley Phipps and Take 6, Canadian recording giants such as Ben Heppner and Jane Bunnett, and jazz legend, Jon Hendricks.
Thirty years on, Burke, who graduated from McMaster University and the Royal Conservatory of Music, is now a professor in the Music department at York University. She says she is still as excited and passionate as ever. And the choir continues to flourish and rejuvenate itself.
“We have members who have been with us from the very beginning and we have members who were not born at the time we started.”
She says the TMC finds relevance in today’s crowded music and entertainment circuit by staying true to their founding credo: “creating and performing gospel music that will draw all people into the awesome presence of God.”
When TMC comes to Evangel Pentecostal Church in downtown Montreal on June 1, with more than 40 voices and five top-notch musicians, they will be sharing the stage with the internationally renowned Audrey Dubois Harris and Herve an up-and-coming singing sensation, at an event that promises to be a signature moment for Gospel music in this city.
Burke assures music lovers and concertgoers a repertoire of song that will be as engaging as they are inspirational.
We have a recently released album, “By Special Request”, from which we will be drawing some of the songs, but we also have 30 years of music, including a few treats from the Caribbean, to share with the audience. We’re excited and looking forward to performing in Montreal.”
Doors open at 6:30 PM. Tickets @www:tmc.ca or at eventbrite.