My First Solo Recording as a Thirteen Year Old Chorister – Toronto Wedding Singer Crooner

Little did I know that my 1987-1988 academic school year would be my most memorable one at St. Michael’s Choir School.  The year started off on a good note (literally) as I was assigned to a homeroom teacher who was very kind and caring. Further, I had started learning the classical guitar and found myself excelling at the instrument. And the icing on the cake was that the main choir conductor, Fr. Barrett Armstrong, was (finally) calling upon me to sing the psalm refrain at mass. Being a repeat psalmist was something that had eluded me during the time I was in the junior choir with Ms. Kathleen Man. Singing the psalm refrain was a very big deal for students and was considered one of the most prestigious solos. Although everyone sung the psalm, not everyone was asked to sing it twice. Fortunate for me, I was asked to sing the psalm repeatedly that year, sometimes even twice on a Saturday at both a wedding and  then again for the 5p.m. mass.

However, the big buzz towards the middle of the school year was that the choir would be recording another album. This was something that the school did every 4 to 5 years and the timing on it could not have been more perfect. I felt that vocally, I was the best soprano that I possibly could have been at the time and that I stood a good chance of potentially nabbing a solo on one of the recordings. I was also aware there was some really strong singers and that the solos were limited. Fellow classmates like Colm Murphy, David McNaught and Paul Magee were all stand out singers that year.

Nevertheless, I vividly remember the head choral conductor, Fr. Armstrong, asking me to stay after choir practice one day to sing an excerpt from a song that was going to be on the album. He said the solo was from a Christmas carol called “The Little Road to Bethlehem” that he was considering me for the solo. I remember nervously going over the music with Fr. Armstrong and thinking that the jitters got the best of me during that rehearsal.  I was left in suspense after the practice session ended as nothing was promised and I was thanked for my time.

Fast forward a couple of weeks later to when we were recording the song as a choir in the studio. After the choir portion of the piece had been completed, I was asked again, along with 3 other students to audition for the solo parts of the piece. Talk about pressure as I was in the modern day equivalent of the knockout rounds of The Voice. Again, self-doubt starting kicking in, mainly because in the sound room listening and making the cuts was another choral conductor from the school who was, how do I say,  not very “fond” of me.  Regardless of that, I sang both solo parts to the best of my abilities and after all was said and done, I was selected as the soloist.

The recording was done immediately after I was selected and I remember the excitement that was shared by my parents when they came to pick me up that evening and I informed them of the good news.

The album, entitled Shout for Joy,  was released in the Fall of 1988, right before the choir school hosted their yearly Christmas concert at Massey Hall. That year, many of the song selections from the album were performed at the concert in order to further promote the LP. Unfortunately (or fortunately….depending on how you want to look at it) puberty kicked in during the summer of 1988 and my voice changed from a Soprano to an Alto. As a result, that meant there was no chance I would be able to replicate on the big stage what I had recorded on the album. Instead, I stood with the choir in obscurity as another grade 8 soprano performed “my solo” at Massey Hall during our 1988 Christmas concert. You have to remember that I was 14 years of age at the time and it was a bitter pill to swallow to have other people think that the young boy on stage singing was Jonathan Michael. However I later learned to be grateful that at least my (soprano) voice and name is forever on one of the albums of the world renowned St. Michael’s Choir School for all of posterity to hear.

Since then, I have had the privilege of recording a number of songs and even recorded my latest album, “The Compilation” with a group of gifted musicians back in 2015. (Click on the link to for the album https://www.musicbyjohn.ca/shop/) Whenever I slip on the headphones in the recording studio, I am always transported back in time to the spring of 1988. Good memories indeed…..and for that, I am truly grateful!

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