When the show began, Kirk Brown noticed two people standing at the back of the church.
Hundreds of people packed the Christian Reformed Church on May 7 for The Show Must Go On, a spring performance by the Maple Ridge Chorus.
But for Brown, a second tenor, the two people standing at the back of the church stuck out.
They were still standing despite the fact that a row of extra seats were added at the back of the venue minutes before the concert began.
“The guys in the choir were waiting to get ready, in the corridor, and then go on stage. Volunteers kept coming into our room and swiping chairs,” Brown said.
“Which is a great problem to have, it was surreal.”
The Show Must Go On was the Maple Ridge Chorus’ largest performance since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020.
The group sold 224 tickets for the event, nine fewer than their all-time record set in the spring of 2019. But Brown said dozens of young children, who weren’t required to pay for admission, were also in attendance—leaving the final attendance figure murky.
After being shut down for about 18 months during the pandemic, the May performance was a return to normalcy for the 90-year-old local choir.
And, for a multitude of reasons, a moment that Brown will not forget anytime soon.
Joining the choir
Roughly six months before the pandemic, in September 2019, Brown decided to do something for himself.
Brown, who was 58 at the time, had just finished a stressful job on a strata council when his sister-in-law noticed a group of Maple Ridge Chorus members at a farmers market.
She grabbed a pamphlet from a member and gave it to Brown. Despite not having any singing experience, Brown jumped at the opportunity to join the choir.
“Fortunately, the Maple Ridge Chorus is non-audition, it’s very inclusive,” Brown said. “We have lots of experienced choristers, and thank goodness, because I needed help.”
Singing quickly turned into a reprieve from a chronic illness that he has been battling for most of his life.
“When I’m in choir, it’s my happy place, where I go to get away,” Brown said.
He performed with the choir in 2019 and early 2020. But when the choir shut down for nearly a year-and-a-half, it put a pause on the activity that had given him so much joy in such a short amount of time.
“My big outings were going to choir,” he said. “So that was tough.”
The choir returned in the fall of 2021, however, until spring 2022, all of their practices and concerts were held with pandemic-era precautions in place including social distancing and masking.
“We were actually reversed in our practice venue,” Brown said. “We were in the pews of the church and the director was at the front, that enabled us to spread out more.”
A majority of restrictions were dropped for concerts starting in spring 2022, however, Brown said attendance figures hadn’t bounced back to pre-pandemic levels.
That was solidified in December 2022 when the choir sold just 161 tickets for their Christmas concert, which is normally their biggest event of the year.
But something changed earlier this month.
The show is going on
According to Brown, there were two factors to explain the choir’s recent rise in attendance: people are feeling more comfortable coming into concerts, and their lineup for the May event featured a heavy dose of popular Broadway show tunes.
“One that we did which was quite long and challenging was a medley of Les Miséarbles,” Brown said. “That was quite popular.”
He added that the choir is also having a participation renaissance, with more younger people joining the music collective.
In the pandemic, they had about 40 choir members — however, that number has rebounded to more than 50 in recent months.
He credits that to a member who teaches at Maple Ridge Secondary School. Some of her former students have joined the choir, Brown said.
Moving forward, to build off the momentum from their recent concert, Brown said the collective will focus on continuing to attract younger folks.
He also added that community choirs, historically, including the Maple Ridge Chorus, struggle to attract male participants.
A majority of their tenors, normally the highest male voice in the choir, are women.
And while there is nothing wrong with having more women than men, Brown would like for men to realize that choir is something they can also pursue.
He went nearly 60 years without joining a choir.
When it was briefly taken away from him due to the pandemic, Brown realized how special it was to sing in harmony with dozens and dozens of people.
“I went the better part of a lifetime not realizing that choir was something I could be doing,” Brown said.
“I think a lot of men don’t realize that they have decent voices and can sing.”