On a Monday evening people begin arriving at a midtown Toronto church for their music class half an hour early. They mill around the social hall kibitzing with their fellow classmates and setting out the snack for the evening.
It’s hard to miss the camaraderie among the students who range in age from 20- something to 90-plus years. Age is not a factor for this group. They all share a love of Broadway show tunes and they gather weekly to sing those songs together.
The class is run by the Avenue Road Arts School (ARAS). Lola Rasminsky founded the school in 1993, but its roots actually date back some 40 years when Rasminsky started an afternoon art program for children in her home.
Today the school – it’s located in a rambling house on Avenue Road near St. Clair Avenue – offers classes for adults and children in visual arts like ceramics, painting and photography and performing arts like the sing-along class for Broadway showtunes.
This class – it has been running for 26 years – is held in a church near the school to accommodate the large group, explains Rasminsky.
The music is so “uplifting,” that it’s the only ARAS classes that she attends regularly, she says, pointing out that many of the participants have been there for 20 years.
Actor/singer Patrick Rose began conducting the weekly sing-along 26 years ago, while award-winning pianist/composer David Warrack has accompanied the group for about 20 years.
Rasminsky says the class is geared to people who want to sing their favourite showtunes with other people. “Singing experience is not necessary.”
And you need not know the words to any songs. The participants sing from books with the words from hundreds of show tunes. The offerings include songs from modern Broadway musicals like Rent and Phantom of the Opera and classics like The King and I and Oklahoma.
“You don’t have to be a singer you just have to have enthusiasm,” Mervin Lass says. He’s been attending the class for 21 years.
He said he feels so close to the group that in the fall he chose to mark his 90th birthday in class.
He had 15 members of his family attend, Rasminsky recounts. “The meal was catered by Sonny Langer.
“There were many tributes sung to him that night. The students and the instructors performed. It was a very moving evening.”
She points to Herb Samuels, a regular for some 20 years. “Herb makes up a song every single week.”
Arlene Abramsky, trained as an opera singer at the University of Toronto and she sang in the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. She joined the class five years ago. “This is exactly what I looking for.
“I wanted to sing show tunes with a group.”
Rosalie Roebuck says she comes to the class because she loves music and Broadway.
The appeal for Pattie Goodman is her love of singing. “It’s better than therapy. I feel happy to be here.”
She has been attending the class for 26 years.
“My mother could play piano and we sang all the time. I remember the old songs, the golden oldies from the Broadway shows of the ‘40s and ‘50s. The words reach deep into the psyche. They’re the oldies, but the goodies.”
On this night the group is singing some oldies. They’ve selected songs from My Fair Lady, circa 1956. They belt out: “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “I’m Getting Married in the Morning,” and “With a Little Bit of Luck.”
Then the music jumps to the ‘60s with the group’s rendition of “The Age of Aquarius,” a hit song from the 1967 rock musical, Hair.
About midway through the class, the group stops for a break. It’s time for a snack and more schmoozing.
The class is a lot of fun, muses Samuels. “There’s good camaraderie and we even do a little singing.”
Registration for the spring session opens this week. For more information visit