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St. Michael's Choir School

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St. Michael's Choir School
Schola Cantorum Sancti Michæle Archangelo
St. Michael's Choir School.JPG
66 Bond Street (Garden District)

, ,
M5B 1X2

School typeSemi-Private Catholic High School
Semi-Private Catholic Elementary School
MottoBis orat qui cantat
(He who sings prays twice)
Religious affiliation(s)Roman Catholic (under direct control of Archbishop of Toronto)
School boardToronto Catholic District School Board
SuperintendentJohn Shanahan (Area 6)
Area trusteeNorm DiPasquale (Ward 9)
School number518 / 834718
518 / 835200
PrincipalMr. Miles Fernandes
Enrollment270 (2016–2017)
Colour(s)Maroon (Elementary)  
Navy (Secondary)  
ConductorsSidney Bryan Priddy (Artistic Director, Senior Saturday Choir & Principal Conductor), Teri Dunn (Senior Sunday Choir, Elementary Choir, and Dean of Choral Studies) and Maria Conkey (Junior Choir)
Exterior view in 2005

St. Michael's Choir School (also known as SMCS, The Choir School, or St. Mike's Choir) is a all male semi-private integrated elementary and secondary school located in downtown Toronto's Garden District in Ontario, Canada. It is operated under a joint venture of Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto, Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music, and the Toronto Catholic District School Board, although the Archdiocese owns the St. Michael's Choir property.

The Choir School trains its students to be choristers and musicians through choral training, music theory instruction, individual piano lessons, and optional additional individual instrumental and vocal instruction. All students sing in choirs at St. Michael's Cathedral, the Cathedral Church of Thomas Cardinal Collins, Archbishop of Toronto.


The school was founded in 1937[1] by Monsignor John Edward Ronan.[2] It was established to provide sacred music to St. Michael's Cathedral, but it did not originally have a full academic programme.[3] Monsignor Ronan was a graduate of the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music and was a prolific composer, though much of his work remains unpublished. He remained principal of the school until his death in 1962.[4] Monsignor Ronan is considered the Father of the School, and is highly respected by all students along with Joan Hopperton, the first teacher; Kathleen Mann, the first Junior Choir conductor; and Monsignor Barrett Armstrong, first organist and later conductor at the school. They are honoured through the school's house system: Ronan, Mann, Hopperton, and Armstrong being the houses.

In 1966, the Choir School entered into an agreement with the Metropolitan Separate School Board (now called the Toronto Catholic District School Board) to place secular, non-music courses under the publicly funded separate school system. By 1987, the school was fully funded by government with the exception of the music programme, for which students pay fees. This administrative structure remains today, though Choir School teachers continue to instruct students beyond the confines of Ontario's public education curricula. In 1987, the Choir School completed fifty years of service, and in recognition of this milestone, Art Eggleton, the mayor of Toronto at the time, declared June 15, 1987 as the official "St. Michael's Choir School Day".

St. Michael's Choir School has held an annual Christmas concert since 1939. From 1939 to 1964, Christmas concerts were held at the Knights of Columbus Hall attached to James Cooper House on Sherbourne Street, and in December 1964 the venue changed to Massey Hall,[5] where it has been held ever since. In 2013, CBC listed the Choir School's Christmas concert as one of Toronto's top 13 classical Christmas events of 2013.[6] The choirs have also performed at Roy Thomson Hall as well as various venues around the city, both on their own and with other musical groups, including the Victoria Scholars Men's Choral Ensemble[7] and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.[8]

St. Michael's Choir School tours frequently within Canada and abroad having recently performed in Nova Scotia,[9] Quebec,[10] the Czech Republic,[11] the United States of America,[12] and the Federal Republic of Germany. In April 2013, St. Michael's Choir School went on a 12-day tour to Florence and Rome in Italy. The school performed "Jubilate Deo", a song composed by the school's founder, John Edward Ronan, at the papal audience on April 10, for Pope Francis.[13]

Notable Choir School instructors have included composer and piano virtuoso John Arpin, who taught piano from 1956 to 1957,[14] and Canadian Opera Company tenor John Arab, who taught vocal from 1954 until his death in 2000.[15]

A documentary film about the school and its tour of Italy was made in 2013 by Salt + Light Television.[16]

Academic and choral programmes

St. Michael's Choir School administers a full academic programme as well as the music programme, with all students being enrolled in both. In addition to the classroom requirements, students study choral music, piano and music theory, with the option of studying second instruments.[17] St. Michael's regularly scores high in the Fraser Institute report for both elementary and secondary schools. In 2012–2013, the secondary programme was given a score of 9.9 out of 10, and ranked 1st out of 740 high schools rated by the institute.[18] The elementary programme rated 9.9 out of 10 and was ranked 1st out of 3030 schools.[18]

The choral music programme includes daily choral instruction as well as weekly Mass duties at St. Michael's Cathedral. There are four choirs at the school: Elementary (grades 3–4), Junior (grades 5–6), Senior (grades 7–12) and Tenor Bass (grades 7–12, changed voices). Each choir has Mass duties, but the Elementary Choir, as a training choir, sings only a handful of Masses every year. All choirs participate in the three major annual concerts, but only the Junior, Senior and Tenor Bass choirs tour with the school.[19]

Due to the choral requirement at St. Michael's Choir School, admission is by audition only. All students must also meet the standard requirements for enrollment with the Toronto Catholic District School Board.[20] The Choir School supports a varied sports programme in addition to academics and music. In 2012, their senior volleyball team placed first in the Toronto District Catholic Athletic Association tournament and won a bronze medal at the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations.[21]


In 1971 the choir of the school sang before Pope Paul VI, at a general audience in St. Peter's Basilica, in the Vatican City, in Rome, Italy.[22]

In 2013, the choir of the school again performed in the Vatican City, in St. Peter's Square for Pope Francis.[13]

In 2015, the choir school celebrated 50 years of performances at Massey Hall.[23]


  • Joy to the World (1973)
  • This Is the Day (1975)
  • Sing Praise to God (1979)
  • Sing the Carols of Christmas (1983)
  • Shout for Joy (1988)
  • The Heavens Are Telling (1994)
  • Tenebrae (1997)
  • Christmas Garland (1999)
  • From Courts on High (2008)
  • In Midnight's Stillness (2009)

Saint Michael's Choir School has finished recording and is mastering a new album as of 18 February 2020.[24]

Notable people


The school came under scrutiny after 17-year-old student Kenneth Au Yeung committed suicide by leaping off of the Prince Edward Viaduct in December 1997.[37] Earlier that afternoon, Au Yeung and other classmates had earlier been called into principal John Ryall's office and questioned by off-duty police officer Const. Christopher Downer, about a prank involving potentially libellous remarks linking the school choir director to a sex scandal. The comments mistakenly found its way into print in the school's yearbook, which Au Yeung had helped edit. There was considerable criticism regarding the presence of the police officer (whom himself was an alumnus of the school) who often came on campus in uniform as the principal's "enforcer", as well as the students being threatened with criminal charges while being denied access to their parents despite being minors. It was the latter that Au Yeung's mother Catherine testified as the direct cause of the suicide during the inquiry. Toronto Police Chief David Boothby intervened such that that Const. Downer faced no repercussions.[38][39][40]

The school was mired in controversy over the removal of its Artistic Director, Dr. Jerzy Cichocki, a 25-year-plus employee and alumnus. A letter dated December 28, 2016 by the school's director, Stephen Handrigan, was sent to the entire Choir School community vaguely outlining Dr. Cichocki's dismissal.[41] Following some backlash from the community, a secondary letter from the Cardinal was sent out, reiterating Dr. Cichocki's removal.[42] An outpouring of backlash sparked a student-led petition in support of Dr. Cichocki's reinstatement was made on December 30, 2016 and earned almost 1000 signatures. The creator stated that "Dr. Cichocki is by far the most qualified candidate to fulfill this noble mission (of the choir school), having had a connection with the school from the age of eight and possessing three graduate degrees in music.”.[43] Despite the significant amount of support, the petition was disregarded by the administration.


  1. ^ "Toronto's St. Michael's Choir School set to perform for next pope | CTV Toronto News". 2014. Retrieved 14 January 2014. was founded in 1937
  2. ^ "Canadian choir to get early audience with new pope – Arts & Entertainment – CBC News". 2014. Retrieved 14 January 2014. John Edward Ronan
  3. ^ D'Cunha, Patricia. "Annual holiday tradition returns to Massey Hall". 680 News. Retrieved 27 January 2014.
  4. ^ Chua, Rebecca. "Behind the Scenes: St. Michael's Choir School's Stephen Handrigan". Whole Note Magazine. Retrieved 27 January 2014.
  5. ^ Smith, Dan (2013). Daly, Peter (ed.). The 1960s (Print publication) (First ed.). St. Michael's Choir School. pp. 26–27.
  6. ^ Morreale, Michael. "Canada's Top 13 Classical Christmas Concerts of 2013". CBC. Retrieved 27 January 2014.
  7. ^ "Victoria Scholars Men's Choral Ensemble & The Choirs of St. Michael's Choir School: A Christmas Celebration". Roy Thomson Hall. Retrieved 27 January 2014.
  8. ^ "St. Michael's Choir School". The Canadian Encyclopedia.
  9. ^ Elliot, Wendy. "Kings arts scene: April 26". Truro Daily News. Retrieved 27 January 2014.
  10. ^ McCarthy, Neil. "Choir School Hits the Road: Cantate Domino". Archdiocese of Toronto.
  11. ^ "Concert Details: Cantate Domino – Chantez au Seigneur – Sing to the Lord". Choirs Ontario. Retrieved 27 January 2014.
  12. ^ Philadelphia Episcopal Church. "Senior Choir of St. Michael's Choir School, Toronto, Ontario". Philly Fun Guide. Archived from the original on 27 January 2014. Retrieved 27 January 2014.
  13. ^ a b Littler, William. "Canada's Music Sounding Sweet in Italy These Days". The Toronto Star. Retrieved 27 January 2014.
  14. ^ Popple, Robert (2009). John Arpin: Keyboard Virtuoso. Toronto: Dundurn. pp. 68–76. ISBN 9781770705005.
  15. ^ "John Arab". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 27 January 2014.
  16. ^ "Into the Mystery". Salt + Light Television.
  17. ^ Toronto Catholic District School Board. "St. Michael's Choir School". Toronto Catholic District School Board. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
  18. ^ a b Fraser Institute. "Report Card for St. Michael's Choir (Sr.) School". Retrieved 15 December 2014.
  19. ^ St. Michael's Choir School. "Choral Training". Archived from the original on 12 November 2013. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
  20. ^ Toronto Catholic District School Board. "St. Michael's Choir School: About Us". Retrieved 21 January 2014.
  21. ^ City Centre Mirror. "Volleyball bronze for St. Michael's, hoops consolation for Northern" (PDF).
  22. ^ 50th Anniversary Booklet: The Tours Archived 2014-01-16 at the Wayback Machine. St. Michael's Choir School, 1987. Accessed January 2014.
  23. ^ "St. Michael's Choir School - Bis orat qui cantat ~ He who sings prays twice". St. Michael's Choir School. Retrieved 2015-12-09.
  24. ^ Recording sessions were had inside St Michael’s Cathedral-Basilica in mid-January 2020. Mr Handrigan, the Director, reported the album being near completion.
  25. ^ Bommarito, Sal. "St. Michael's Choir School Lured Back". The Brantford Expositor. Retrieved 27 January 2014.
  26. ^ "Sh'Boom!: Rock and Roll Alumni of St. Michael's Choir School | Toronto in Time". 2014. Retrieved 13 January 2014.
  27. ^ Hunwicks, Allison (2014). "Choir school training launched jazz singer Matt Dusk's career". Archived from the original on January 14, 2014. Retrieved 13 January 2014.
  28. ^ "BBC – Music – The Four Lads". 2014. Retrieved 13 January 2014.
  29. ^ "Kevin Hearn – Actors & Actresses –". 2014. Archived from the original on 14 January 2014. Retrieved 13 January 2014.
  30. ^ "Archdiocese of Toronto | Barenaked Ladies, Matt Dusk, John McDermott, Stewart Goodyear, and Michael Burgess on Stage at Roy Thomson Hall, October 15, 2007". 2014. Retrieved 13 January 2014.
  31. ^ "Choir school marks 75 years of making music". 2014. Archived from the original on August 23, 2013. Retrieved 13 January 2014.
  32. ^ IMDB. "Michael Ontkean – Biography".
  33. ^ "Robert Pomakov : Born to Sing". 2011. Retrieved 13 January 2014.
  34. ^ "Michael Schade (Tenor) – Short Biography". 2013. Retrieved 13 January 2014.
  35. ^ "Featured Artist: Peter A. Togni". Number 9 Audio Group. Archived from the original on 30 December 2013. Retrieved 27 January 2014.
  36. ^ "Q&A Marco Mendicino on beating Eve Adams and his plans to topple Joe Oliver". Toronto Life. Toronto Life Publishing Co. 30 September 2015. Retrieved 22 August 2015.
  37. ^ Oakland Ross (10 January 2010). "The fatal attraction of 'suicide magnets'". The Star. Toronto. Retrieved 13 January 2014.
  38. ^ Nicol, John; O'Hara, Jane (2 February 1998). "Death of a choirboy: a student's suicide shakes a renowned Toronto school.(Kenneth AuYeung; Saint Michael's Choir School)". Maclean's. Canada. Archived from the original on 10 November 2013.
  39. ^ "DEATH OF a CHOIRBOY | Maclean's | FEBRUARY 2, 1998".
  40. ^ "Maclean's — February 1998".
  41. ^ "Letter from the Director". Retrieved 2017-01-10.
  42. ^ "Communication from Cardinal Thomas Collins re Pontifical School of Sacred Music at St. Michael's Choir School". Retrieved 2017-01-10.
  43. ^ Swan, Michael. "St. Michael's Choir school fired long-time conductor". Catholic Register. Retrieved January 11, 2017.

External links

Coordinates: 43°39′18″N 79°22′41″W / 43.6551°N 79.3781°W / 43.6551; -79.3781