Singing for gold in old Cincinnati

On July 5, 2012 the Hamilton Spectator did an article on Brian Turnbull’s Oakville-based choir and its quest for gold at the World Choir Games in Ohio. Brian is our organist and choir director at Centenary. Here is the text and photo from that article.

Tempus Choral Society
Tempus Choral Society, Directed by Centenary's Brian Turnbull

Brian Turnbull and his Tempus Choral Society aren’t singing for second best at the 2012 World Choir Games in Cincinnati, Ohio.

“My aim is to get gold,” said Turnbull from his Oakville home just before he and 34 of his 88 choristers left for the 11-day event, which kicked off yesterday.

Turnbull, organist and choir director at Centenary United in downtown Hamilton for the past five years, founded the TCS in late 1999 as an amateur community choir based in Oakville. Their repertoire focuses on jazz and Broadway tunes as well as seasonal favourites during the Christmas run-up. Turnbull also runs the 22-voice Tempus Chamber Choir, a TCS offshoot, which rehearses in St. John’s Lutheran, a hop, skip, and jump from Centenary. As far as contest experience goes, the TCS has sung in the Rotary Burlington Music Festival plus competitions in New Orleans and Boston.

“We’ve got one silver. Everything else we’ve got is gold,” said Turnbull proudly.

And thanks to those competition results, when the TCS registered for the Jazz category at the World Choir Games last September, they were placed in the Champions Competition stream rather than the Open Competition stream.

But you’re probably wondering, “What are the World Choir Games?”

Well, it’s one of many international choral events organized by Interkultur, a nonprofit organization founded in 1990 by Guenter Titsch, 65, a former accountant and tax consultant based in Pohlheim near Frankfurt, Germany.

According to, Titsch likens his biennial World Choir Games to “a kind of Olympic Games of choir singing.”

Stress the “kind of.” Sure, all of the 362 participating choirs from 48 countries in the Games’s 23 categories are amateur. So, the Oakville Children’s Choir and the 14 other choirs in the Open Competition Musica Sacra category don’t have to worry about being outsung by a best-in-breed professional choir like, say, the RIBS Kammerchor from Berlin.

But Titsch’s Games differ from the Olympics in one major way: scoring. If any choir in the Champions Competition receives a score of over 80 points from the panel of seven judges, they get “gold” medals. So, let’s say that there are five choirs competing in a category. If they all score over 80, they all get gold. In any event, the choir with the highest score is named Champion of the World Choir Games for their category.

No wonder Turnbull and his choristers are pumped.

“You start this up and you start training the choir and then when you get closer you see the adrenalin, the hype and the excitement,” said Turnbull. “They’re just so excited to go.”

Alas, not every TCS chorister was able to get off work to go to Cinci. Those who could, including five of the TCS’s Hamilton area members, paid their own way to Ohio.

Tomorrow in the Mayerson Theater, the TCS is up against seven other choirs hailing from Croatia, Denmark, Holland, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and the United States. If the TCS want to return home singing We Are The Champions, they’ll first have to nail their selections of Home in That Rock, Basin Street Blues, Mississippi Mud, and Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, the latter two arranged by Kirby Shaw who’s one of many workshop leaders at the Games. While in Cinci, the TCS will also sing Oscar Peterson’s Hymn to Freedom and Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah at a Friendship Concert.

“It’s just another feather in the choir’s cap as far as an experience,” said Turnbull. “And also, we hope to network with a lot of choirs from around the world, and hopefully, maybe do exchanges.”

Just like last year when they hosted a choir from Germany at Centenary United after having met them at a choral festival in Charleston, S.C.

Prior to heading up that highway to Cinci, Turnbull got a call from a choir director in Hawaii who wants to show him some of her music while at the Games.

“I think Hawaii would be a nice exchange,” said Turnbull.
Leonard Turnevicius covers classical music for The Hamilton Spectator.