July 1, 2023 - They’re quite a ways from rendering Gregorian chants at the St. Mary’s Parish in Vancouver.
Perhaps they’ll get there someday.
For now, members of the all-Knights-of-Columbus ensemble are only too happy to sing as choir at the church’s 8 a.m. Mass every first Sunday of the month.
What makes the warblers rather special is that they’re likely the sole Knights-only choir in Metro Vancouver.
Composed of First to Third Degree members of Council 13072 and Fourth Degree Knights of Assembly 3400, the St. Mary’s-based chorale is marking its first-year anniversary in July 2023.
Arnell Anthony Bernardo, who studied at the Conservatory of Music of the University of Sto. Tomas in the Philippines, conducts the choir.
“Our voices are gifts from God,” Bernardo says. “By singing in church during the Mass, we are telling the Lord that we are honouring this blessing.”
Bernardo recalls that putting the group together didn’t come easy. Members are not professionally trained in music, and many haven’t sung in a group.
“They’re amateurs when it comes to music, but as the months have gone on, they’ve become better and better,” Bernardo says.
Thanks to digital technology, the conductor is able to upload online in advance songs to be performed, allowing members do practice the tunes individually ahead of group rehearsals.
The Knights of Columbus is a global fraternal order of Catholic men.
The formation of the all-Knights choir at St. Mary’s Parish was a longstanding dream of Adelino Aguilar, the outgoing Grand Knight of Council 13072 and also the incoming Faithful Navigator of Assembly 3400.
“We do caroling during Christmas and we would bring along our spouses, and one time we asked, ‘Why don’t we have our own male-only choir?’” Aguilar recalls.
The idea remained in the backburner until 2021 when the Knights started sponsoring the 8 a.m. Mass every first Sunday.
For these Masses, members of the Catholic brethren would turn up in uniform, and act as altar servers, lectors, and ministers of the Holy Communion.
“The only thing lacking was a choir composed of Brother Knights,” relates Aguilar, who is a member of the singing group.
At the time, Bernardo was conducting the choir at the 3 p.m. Sunday Masses. Luckily, he accepted the invitation to join the Knights of Columbus.
“Brother Arnell has been very patient with us. He teaches us about breathing, pronunciation, tone, and the different voices,” Aguilar says.
“Sometimes we’re out of tune, but he never gets tired of coaching us.”
On July 3, 2022, the all-Knights choir performed for the first time at St. Mary’s Parish.
“It was tense before the Mass,” Bernardo recalls.
“How will they sing with the congregation? It was difficult to concentrate on the Mass. It was only after the last song that I felt relieved.”
“They delivered,” Bernardo says.
Music represents a potent medium for Bernardo.
“Music touches the heart,” he says.
“It elevates the person to pray more. It's the most powerful medium that God has given us,” Bernardo explains.
Burton Aw has never sung in a choir, but when asked to join the group, the Knight did not hesistate.
“I’m glad to see the Knights of Columbus represent ourselves through music,” Aw says.
“So far, we’re getting the hang of it. I like being in the choir because I am able to bond with my fellow Knights,” Aw notes.
Rephrasing an expression often attributed to St. Augustine, Aw says, “When you sing during the Mass, it’s like praying two or three times to the Lord.”