For 15 years, Stan Williams has been conducting a choir. It’s early morning at the Salvation Army citadel on Lawrence Ave. E. when one-by-one, the men of the Singing Pilgrims make their way up the stage. Each is carrying a binder of sheet music in hand. It’s a weekly ritual for these retirees.
The Singing Pilgrims brings together a group of retired men who share a passion for music and religion. The group regularly travels across Ontario performing at seniors’ homes and other churches.
The idea for the Pilgrims came from retired Salvation Army Major Bill Davies. According to Stan Williams, Davies wanted to form a male quartet at Christmastime for a carol sing.
“Davies had a strong interest in male choirs, so he got a group of us together, some from the Baptist church – including a couple of tenors – and that’s where it started,” Williams said.
Williams has been playing in the Salvation Army band for more than 65 years. He said the Singing Pilgrims get a warm reception, especially at the Meighen Residence where the group has been performing regularly for the last 15 years and where they will next take the stage on Nov. 7.
“They’ll book us right after the last concert is done, usually the same Thursday the next year,” Williams said.
Jim Smith, another member, heard about the group through his friends at the Salvation Army and has been a member for 15 years.
“I love music, my children love music, so it’s really all in the family,” Smith said.
Smith, like Williams, said singing at seniors’ homes gives him a rewarding feeling.
“We always get a good reception, we sing the old songs that seniors like and I think we’re really appreciated,” he said.
With most of the members being involved in the Salvation Army for most of their life, the sense of community makes the opportunity to sing with lifelong peers more gratifying.
Roy Isherwood has been singing with the Singing Pilgrims for a little more than six years, but his music experience stretches back 50 years, including time in another Salvation Army choir known as The Songsters. He feels the socializing benefit of the group is important.
“While we were singing, I thought, ‘Who does this really benefit?’ It’s a strong way of supporting people’s faith and also listening to music,” Isherwood said.
“It’s also nice here; we have fellowship once a week. We benefit from it as well as the people who listen to us,” Isherwood said.
“It can be difficult to find members because most of us are retired and we rehearse in the mornings.” Isherwood said.
The group has had a membership high of about 30 men, but the number has declined to about 20. Williams has a humourous outlook on the future of the group.
“We just like to keep going. It’s a great fellowship. The fellas all enjoy it. We’re all retired and don’t want to kill ourselves doing it,” Williams said.
The group rehearses every Thursday morning and new members are always welcome. For information on engagement requests, contact Major Jim Smith at 647-693-5776.