Generations of song–a tale of three poems

Generations of song–a tale of three poems
Bishop’s University Singers Co-Directors Jamie Crooks and Fannie Gaudette, Lyricist Tom Matthews and his wife Barbara Matthews, and Chorist Stuart McKelvie, backstage before the Singers’ final performance of ‘Magical Mystery Tour: An Evening with the Beatles’

The Bishop’s University choral scene, then and now

By William Crooks

Local Journalism Initiative

This past weekend, generations of choristers, the age gap between the youngest and oldest spanning over 60 years, performed three concerts in a tribute to the Beatles at Bishop’s University’s (BU) Centennial Theatre. Nearly 150 Champlain Lennoxville students and staff, BU students and staff, community members, and even a single highschooler, joined together in song in what was Co-Directors Fannie Gaudette and Jamie Crooks’ 25th year leading the BU Singers. Tom and Barbara Matthews, husband and wife, who sang together in BU’s choral group ‘Deep Purples’ in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, took a stroll down memory lane in a recent interview. Backstage, on the night of Dec. 2, 2023, Tom read out poetic encomiums to Crooks and Gaudette, then received an honour of his own.

1950s: The Deep Purples

“I believe the Deep Purples started in ‘54 or ’55,” recounted Barbara. The director was a chemistry professor, Dr. Wally McCubbin. The Deep Purples were named after a popular song of the era. It was a really nice group, Barbara said, everyone had to wear uniforms with purple blazers and grey bottoms, the women in skirts. The group had around 40 people in it, considerable since BU only had just over 400 students at the time.

“The Deep Purples were all volunteers,” Tom said; BU did not have a music program. McCubbin was very demanding and they learned a lot from him.

“It just seems like yesterday,” Barbara continued, many of the buildings on BU’s current campus did not exist yet, like the Student Union Building. Concerts and plays were held in the gymnasium.

Barbara remembers that they sang everything from classical pieces to the popular music of the times. A subsection of the group formed a quartet, of which Tom was a member, who accompanied themselves with guitar and banjo. The group traveled and performed in places such as Thetford Mines, Ottawa, and Montreal. “We sang at King’s Hall, Compton, too,” Tom said, and other local high schools.

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