Let us take another instance, of an outward and earthly form, or economy, under which great wonders unknown seem to be typified; I mean musical sounds…they have escaped from some higher sphere; they are the outpourings of eternal harmony in the medium of created sound; they are echoes from our home; they are the voice of angels, or the Magnificat of saints, or the living laws of divine governance, or the divine attributes; something are they besides themselves, which we cannot compass, which we cannot utter…

(St John Henry Newman The Theory of Developments in Religious Doctrines 1843)

Toronto Oratory Choir

The Toronto Oratory Choir is a chamber ensemble of professional-caliber singers specializing in the polyphonic music of the sixteenth century. Music by composers contemporary with St Philip (Palestrina, Victoria, and Lassus) provides a core repertoire for this ensemble, but the group also sings a broad cross-section of Renaissance and late medieval sacred music, as well as more recent compositions in a polyphonic style. They can be heard singing at the 11:00 am Solemn High Mass (usus antiquior) at Holy Family Church, one of the few Masses in Toronto where a polyphonic Ordinary can be heard each week; they also provide music for 5:00 Vespers and Benediction, and major holy days as announced.

To sample some liturgical renditions of the Toronto Oratory Choir go to our Youtube channel.

St Philip’s Seminary Schola Cantorum

The Schola Cantorum at the Oratory is a male-voice ensemble specializing in Gregorian chant, particularly the melismatic Propers of the Mass. The bulk of its members are drawn from the student body of St Philip’s Seminary, who benefit from the opportunity to gain practical experience in singing chant as well as a deeper knowledge of the history of liturgical music. Our approach to chant is informed by the principles of semiology (the study of the signs in the earliest chant manuscripts, which provide crucial aids to rhythm and musical interpretation). Although the schola focuses primarily on the Gregorian chant repertory, the ensemble also sings later chant repertories, such as the works of St Hildegard of Bingen, and some polyphonic music.

Membership in the Schola is also open to lay members of the parish interested in chant, who join the group to sing the mass Propers for the 11:00 am Solemn High Mass (usus antiquior) at Holy Family Church. Anyone interested in becoming part of this ensemble should contact Aaron James at [email protected] for more information.

Oratory Children’s Choir

The Oratory Children’s Choir provides music for the 9:30 am Family Mass at Holy Family Church, and other holy day services as announced; they also present an annual concert in the spring. Members of the choir learn about the Church’s liturgy while singing a varied repertoire of music that includes Gregorian chant, Renaissance motets, and a cross-section of sacred music ranging from the Baroque to the present day. The group rehearses on Tuesday afternoons, with a warm-up before Mass on Sunday mornings.

New members of the OCC are typically admitted in the fall of each year after a brief, informal audition; they should normally have reached at least the fourth grade in school (ages 9-10). If your child is interested in singing with the OCC, please contact Aaron James at [email protected] for more information.

The Holy Family Angels

The genesis of The Holy Family Angels was in volunteer work done over the years by Holy Family parishioner, Douglas Peck. An amateur pianist and former small dance band leader in Vancouver, Douglas began forming ad hoc Christmas caroling groups in Toronto to entertain the elderly and disabled after retiring from his career in l991. Douglas and a few friends performed monthly at the Westpark Healthcare Centre in North York until the Centre changed its entertainment format. At that point Douglas Peck joined with David Ellis, a singer, and his daughter Jennifer, a violinist and vocalist, to form the nucleus of what became the Holy Family Angels. Every month they visit Labdara, the Lithuainian home for the elderly, and three times a year– at Christmas, Easter and during Ordinary Time– they hold a “singsong” with a larger group, including sopranos Ivony Vistan and Douglas’ daughter Natalie.

Aaron James is the Director of Music for the Toronto Oratory of St Philip Neri, serving at Holy Family Church. A native of Toronto, Aaron studied at the Eastman School of Music (Rochester, NY), where he earned both the PhD degree in musicology and the Doctor of Musical Arts degree in organ performance. At Eastman, he studied with Edoardo Bellotti, Hans Davidsson, and Michel Bouvard, as well as William Porter (improvisation, continuo). He was the 2011 winner of the National Organ Playing Competition of the Royal Canadian College of Organists (RCCO), and was also a finalist in the 2013 Franz Schmidt International Organ Competition (Kitzbühel, Austria). He performs regularly as an organ recitalist both in Canada and in the United States, and has appeared as a soloist with the Eastman Graduate Chamber Orchestra, the Toronto Youth Wind Orchestra, and the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. He is a Fellow of the RCCO, the College’s highest academic distinction, receiving the Willan and Porter prizes for the highest standing on the 2012 Fellowship examinations.

Before returning to Toronto, Aaron served as Director of Music at St Mary’s Church (Auburn, NY), where he oversaw the completion of the renovation of the parish’s 1890 Carl Barckhoff pipe organ. He also served as an instructor of music history and theory at the University of Rochester. His academic research focuses on the dissemination and reception of the Latin motet in the mid-sixteenth century, and has been the basis of numerous conference presentations in the United States, Canada and Europe. Aaron’s most recent published work appears in the Journal of the Alamire Foundation and in Early Music. In addition to his work at the Oratory, he serves as a part-time instructor of organ literature at the University of Toronto.