About Us

collage2Presenting two major concerts per year, in May and December, Bel Canto performs works from a assortment of genres, including opera choruses, Broadway show tunes, folk songs, spirituals, and even rock. The mix has proved popular with choir and audiences alike, as both have grown steadily over the past few years.

Bel Canto Singers was founded in 1993. The founding members envisaged a community choir that would provide fun and fellowship as well as excellence in singing for experienced and committed choristers. Under the devoted leadership of John Watkins for 14 years, the choir developed a broad repertoire. This mixture of styles and genres—as well as a commitment to excellence—continued under Linda Meyer’s inspired leadership for 9 years, until her recent retirement. Bel Canto Singers has recently announced the appointment of Leanne Piller as our new Music Director, starting in January 2018.

collage1The choir meets weekly on Tuesday evenings 7:00 to 9:30 p.m. at St. Nicholas Church, 1512 Kingston Rd., east of Warden. Sectionals and other special rehearsals are often held 6:45 to 7:30 p.m., before regular rehearsals begin. Performances are held at Scarborough Bluffs United Church, 3739 Kingston Rd., in Scarborough, as well as at a variety of other churches and seniors’ homes, where we perform to benefit other audiences and charitable causes two or three times a year. Bel Canto also collects donations at its concerts that are passed on to worthy charities, most notably Kids Help Phone.

Volunteers are Bel Canto’s strength, starting with a volunteer Board made up of choir members. In addition, all functions necessary for the smooth running of rehearsals are performed by volunteers, from setting up and taking down chairs each week, to setting up sound equipment, to arranging for a snack at rehearsal break time.

Concerts are also a busy time, as choir members pitch in to set up the performance space, bake cookies and squares, and serve tea and coffee at intermission. Choir members are also mainly responsible for ticket sales, with family and friends making up the majority of our regular audience.

We hold an annual workshop aimed at improving aspects of our singing, such as breathing, tone quality, ear training, sight reading, and rhythms. This event has proven so enjoyable, we have begun calling it the “fun” shop!

The choir plans a number of social events throughout the year, including pre-rehearsal dinners, post-concert gatherings, and an annual banquet.

The heart of our group, however, is singing. That is what inspires us and what brings us together. We love to share our love of singing.

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Artistic Team

Leanne PillerMusic Director

Bel Canto is pleased to welcome Leanne Piller as our new Music Director, beginning with our spring 2018 concert. Her approach to choral conducting is simple: “Every singer should have good vocal technique and be singing to the best of their ability.” To achieve this, she brings to bear considerable training and experience.

Exceptionally qualified, Leanne has a Master’s of Music Performance (Choral Conducting) degree from the University of Toronto, but she already knew from a young age that she wanted to be a conductor. At the age of 3, at a family birthday celebration, she spontaneously began conducting the family in the singing of “Happy Birthday.” She started piano lessons at 6. By age 11, she was already accompanying singers, and she realized that it would help her become a better accompanist if she were to study singing herself. So she began studying voice as well as piano.

At 14, she remembers attending a live performance by a professional orchestra for the first time. She was hooked. She knew that she had to become the conductor, the person who could lead the whole group to work together and make beautiful music. This desire led to her conducting her high school band on a few occasions, and of course to her choosing to study music: voice, piano, and conducting, at Brock University.

By the time she entered the Master’s program at U of T, she was already an experienced accompanist, as well as a piano teacher and vocal coach. She had also already conducted several choirs, including a children’s choir that performed at the opening of the Winter Festival of Lights in Niagara Falls in 2011–2012, and numerous church, community, and children’s choirs. At U of T, she considers herself fortunate to have studied under Dr. Hilary Apfelstadt, a talented and passionate educator, whose ability to find solutions to choral challenges, and to communicate them effectively, was remarkable. Leanne aspires to emulate Dr. Apelstatdt’s methods with all of the choirs she leads. While at U of T, Leanne was awarded the Elmer Isler Graduate Fellowship in Choral Conducting.

At last count, Leanne was conducting eight choirs and serving as administrator for one, as well as teaching piano and coaching vocal students. She holds it all together by staying “very organized” and approaching her work with energy and enthusiasm. “I do it for the love of the music and the joy it creates, she declares. “I’m very lucky that my passion became my life’s work.”

Jacqueline MokrzewskiPianist

Bel Canto is fortunate to have had Jacqueline Mokrzewski as our accompanist since 2011. Astonishingly talented, she has spent her life learning and performing as a pianist in Canada and around the world.

At age 12 she was awarded first prize in the New York Music Teacher’s Association piano competition and never looked back. A graduate of the Master of Music program in piano performance at the University of Toronto, Jacqueline has won first prize in the University of Toronto Concerto and the Toronto Sinfonietta Concerto competitions, twice taken second place in the Canadian Music Competition, and won first prize in the Toronto Symphony Orchestra Competition for best performance of a work by a Canadian composer. She has taken piano performance master classes in Russia, Poland and New York and has had a teaching studio of her own here in Toronto since 2008.

Despite her clear talent and excellence as a musician, Jacqueline professes an early interest in a career as a police detective, an ambition her parents opposed. In retrospect, she says that choosing music has opened diverse and numerous opportunities, including teaching, performing with various groups and combos, and accompanying or directing community music groups such as Bel Canto.

Jacqueline currently teaches piano, vocal and theory through her own private studio, but has larger plans to eventually open a more comprehensive conservatory or school. Pointing to examples in Europe, where students attend after-school classes in music conservatories, she says she would like to “raise the bar” for music education by broadening the opportunities for students to study in a conservatory setting. This has advantages over private lessons by linking the study of different instruments and aspects of music in a more comprehensive approach.

Of playing piano for Bel Canto, Jacqueline says, “It’s a lot of fun. I get to sit back and enjoy the music. I like the interaction with people, getting to know them. It’s a nice approach to music!”

We are delighted to have her continue as accompanist for our 2017–18 season.