On a sunny Wednesday afternoon in May, a group of 50
people sit on church pews inside of Camlachie United
Church's vast sanctuary while quietly studying sheets of
As Forest's Mary Jean Hansen enters the room and steps
up in front of the group, standing behind her keyboard
and music stand, pianist Lois Wellington begins playing
the first few bars of John Lennon's Imagine on her
piano. Hansen raises her hands and, in unison, the
assembly of assorted vocalists rise to their feet and
begin singing a ringing, rousing version of the late
Beatles' iconic tune, with the sounds of the choir's
collective voices reverberating of the walls of the
What is taking place at Camlachie United Church on this
Wednesday is the weekly meeting of Synergy 150, a
recently-formed community choir comprised of over 50
members from across Lambton County and beyond.
The community singing group got its start this past
January somewhat inauspiciously in Hansen's living
room in Forest.
used to have a choir called the Forest Community
Singers. I wasn't a part of that group, but I attended a
number of their performances. At the time I was music
director at Forest United Church, Hansen said. But
what happened was that they disbanded last December and
at around the same time I retired as music director.
With no community choir, several people in Forest began
asking Hansen a retired high school music teacher who
said she has been directing choirs since the age of 12
whether she would be interested in starting up another
choir to fill Forest's musical void.
know, a community without music is dead. Sports are
always big in small communities but you've really got to
have music. So I sent out emails to all the members of
the old choir and a few other people and invited them to
come to my house. I expected about 12 people and I ended
up with 19.
Over the coming months, that number grew to 53 as word
spread about the choir, with more and more people from
as far away Port Franks, Parkhill, Kettle Point and
Arkona interested in exercising their vocal chords.
The choir eventually settled on the name Synergy 150,
Hansen said, to represent the large and unique
collection of individuals of varying musical talents
that have come together in the choir, as well as
celebrate Canada's 150th birthday. The priority for
Synergy 150 is having fun while making some wonderful
music, she said.
told the group that there were a few specific things I
wanted from this. Number one, that it's fun. I want
music that's fun, I want our members to have fun and I
want to sing music that people can identify with, she
said. I told them I wanted to do 'decades' concerts,
where we pick music from a decade and work it into an
hour, an hour-and-a-half concert while holding it in an
environment like the old coffeehouses, where people come
for music and can sing along.
Not only do choir members come from a variety of
communities in and around Lambton County, Hansen said,
but every member brings a diversity of musical
background with them.
have teachers, we have clerics, we have retirees and
several read music but just as many don't. But what they
all have in common is they're enthusiastic, they're
learning and they're having fun.
As for songs, the choir is becoming familiar with a
whole host of songs from different eras, from vintage
songs stemming from Canada's pre-Confederation era to
more contemporary fare such as the Piano Man, the Rose
and selections from Paul Anka's teen heartthrob era.
For Canada's sesquicentennial, the group will be
performing all-Canadian selections, but aside from that
pretty much anything goes, Hansen said but within
just doing iconic songs from each decade that are
singable, Hansen said, smiling. I mean there are a lot
of songs that I like that are heavy metal which you
really can't sing, at least not in four-part harmonies.
Ninety-one-year-old Monty Montgomery said being a part
of Synergy 150 has been a thoroughly enjoyable
experience, something that surprised the novice singer.
known Mary Jean and her husband Paul for some time and I
told her 'I can't sing'. And she said 'You'll sing when
I get done with you', he said with a laugh. It's
amazing what she does... you know a lot of these people
have been in choirs, but not all of them. And the way
the (choir) sings now, it's unbelievable. It's also
amazing what she's dug up in terms of music.
really starting to get into it, Montgomery continued
with a grin. Originally I thought all I was going to do
was organize transportation and do paperwork. But it's
not too bad, I've blended in. I always try to stand
between two guys who can sing, though.
As for Hansen, the choir is simply a continuation of her
life-long love affair with making music.
just love to have a lot of voices together, she said.
Every year my husband and I have thrown open our doors
to have carolers come into our home... I just love the
sound of so many voices mixed and singing. I always
motivates me is that there is music in everyone, Hansen
continued. That's why I won't audition people for the
choir I take all comers because I know that it
eventually comes out. For me, the joy that music brings,
it's incredible. You can be having the worst day in the
world, and then you sing and you'll go home and you're
light and you're happy.
With only a minimal fee to join $20, which is used to
purchase sheet music and practices every Wednesday,
Hansen encourages anyone who wants to express themselves
musically to come out and give Synergy 150 a go. The
group will begin public performances on June 30 and
Hansen is hoping that members bring with them a bit of a
flair for the dramatic, too.
we started the choir I told them 'be prepared' we
don't just stand there and sing, Hansen said, smiling.
Like when we do our sixties show, I expect some of you
to come dressed in that era's clothes. That's my thing,
I like drama and performance, just to make it a little
Synergy 150's first performance will be on June 30 at
North Lambton Lodge.
For more information about the group email