With $400K raised for charity, Victoria choir director's impact reaches far beyond music
Christina Stevens, CTV Vancouver Island
Published Wednesday, December 5, 2018 10:35AM PST
Last Updated Wednesday, December 5, 2018 5:54PM PST
The sound of 85 perfectly blended voices, belting out Christmas carols, reaches past the door. Open the door, and the sound fills the room.
At the front, facing the choir is Jack Boomer, directing the Arbutus Singers.
This is where Boomer has stood, waving his arms, gesturing almost violently. He's done it nearly every Wednesday night for the last 21 years.
Full of an unrelenting enthusiasm, Boomer goes from singing along, to chastising choir members for not memorizing the songs, to cracking jokes which have everyone in the room bursting into laughter, without fail.
No matter what he is doing, Boomer doesn’t lose the singers’ attention for a moment.
He has managed to get the choir members to care just as much as he does, not just about hitting the perfect note, but using their talents to fundraise, over and over.
“He is the Arbutus Singers, they wouldn’t exist without Jack,” said Kim Hesketh, a choir member for the last eight years.
Jane Cowell was one of a dozen friends Boomer convinced to form a small choir "for a couple of years", more than two decades ago.
She never dreamed their little group of singers would become so big or do so much for the community.
“Never in a million years,” said Cowell.
There is a long list of Boomer’s accomplishments with the choir. A couple stand out from the rest.
“Jack was involved in starting Choir Kids, which is a program in schools in Victoria which gets young kids into choir, and he’s helped raise countless thousands of dollars,” said Hesketh.
Actually, it’s about $400,000.
Boomer received the Outstanding Fundraising Volunteer award on National Philanthropy Day, for raising all that money which has helped support 15 different charities over the years.
“It obviously makes me very proud to be part of something like this,” said Boomer.
‘It also makes me feel very humbled that people are willing to come out week after week to be part of this. We’ve created a community of people that care and we do a lot of good for the community in terms of the Choir Kids Program and we sing for other groups that want to raise money,” he explained.
Boomer directs the choir, plans and organizes the concerts, picks the music, manages the tickets and takes time to check on choir members who have fallen ill.
Then of course, there are the jokes during rehearsals.
“He keeps us laughing all the time,” said Cowell.
There is yet another aspect to Boomer’s role with the Arbutus Singers.
He occasionally composes songs for them.
Boomer was inspired to compose a Christmas song after his 33-year-old niece was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
“I wondered what it would be like if it was your last Christmas,” said Boomer.
So he asked his friend, and Cowell’s husband, John Cowell, to put words to his music.
“He penned me some words, called ‘Celebrate’. A month later he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, so I put the song away. I finally, over the summer, decided to finish it,” Boomer paused before continuing.
“My niece passed away in the summer,”
Two choir members performed the song at a concert Cowell was too ill to attend, but he watched it online
Cowell passed away the following week.
The Arbutus Singers now include ‘Celebrate’ in concerts, as a celebration of life.
The song, just one example of how the choir members have supported each other in tough times and shared in each other’s joy, with Boomer always at the helm.
Boomer said sometimes, while directing their concerts, hearing the beauty they've created together moves him to tears.
“What inspires me is just the fact that we are doing good and this is my family. These people here have become a real part of me, and hopefully for many of them, I’ve become a part of them as well.”
The Arbutus Singers' next concert is on Dec. 12. More information can be found here.