For Irvine Syer, every Christmas concert could use just one more practice.
Syer should know – he’s been one of the driving forces behind 30 years of Christmas celebrations at the Shiloh United Church.
Syer and Shiloh Inwood Choir start practicing at the church on Shiloh Line in October. You’ll find them there every Wednesday night for about two-hours learning the melodies and harmonies to retell the story of Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus in the manger.
Music has been a large part of Syer’s life, first taking lessons as a young boy on Shiloh Line from a teacher who would come by buggy in the spring and cutter in the winter charging 50 cents for each lesson.
Over the years, he earned his Associate of the Royal Conservatory of Toronto and taught hundreds of children music lessons along the way. And as he did, he was active in the music ministry of his country church.
Thirty years ago, Syer found the Christmas musicals during a trip to a Christian bookstore. He talked to his wife, Ruby, and the church choir and they decided to give it a go. Syer organized the music; Ruby mustered the costumes for the nativity scene. And Ruby would find a “Baby Jesus” for the event from the children of the congregation or friends. There have only been two productions without a real child in the manger.
Ruby passed away this summer so organizing this year’s concert, set for Saturday and Sunday night, has been bittersweet. “I miss her,” Syer says as he waits for all the choir members to arrive. “She would figure out all the costumes and where Joseph and Mary would come in, the costumes would all have to be pressed.”
Syer’s daughters are helping now. They’re also part of the choir with rest of the ladies from Enniskillen, Inwood and as far away as Bright’s Grove.
And while Ruby is not there to help, some things do not change. Syer begins studying the musical in the spring, adding extra music – including some of his own songs occasionally – practicing at home for an hour each day to get his part just right.
For Syer, practice is the key to a good Christmas concert. “I want it as good as we can get it,” he says after prompting me to ask how much the choir practices. “Even if it is perfect, I want it just a little better.
“We always could have one more practice,” the director adds “the last practice puts the icing on the cake.”
Syer isn’t working toward perfection for himself; “When we are singing, it is to give glory to God really – in a sense, it is our worship service.”