Behnaz McCallum

Second Soprano

Behnaz McCallum is a relatively new member, having joined Echo in the fall of 2023. She is very enthusiastic about the singing with the choir, and agreed to share her impressions with others who might be looking for a similar experience.

Behnaz is a retired audiologist with over thirty years of experience, twenty of which were spent working in a private hearing clinic. She is definitely an auditory person. Behnaz holds a graduate degree from Tehran University and a doctorate from the Arizona School of Health Sciences. She found helping people with their communication problems very rewarding, but took early retirement during the Covid pandemic. Behnaz now has time for a wide range of activities including painting, studying piano, and singing. She practices yoga and meditation daily, as she has for many years.

Although she had never sung in a choir before joining Echo, Behnaz plays the Persian frame drum, or Daf. This instrument is used in folk music, and is an important component of Sufi music, which is very spiritual and uplifting.

Behnaz learned about Echo through a newspaper ad. She had always wanted to sing in a choir, and the fact that Echo is a women’s choir and requires no experience and no audition appealed to her. She became a member and participated in her first concert In December, which she found to be a lot of fun.

Following is an excerpt from our conversation.

Echo: What do you like about singing with Echo?

BM: When I started going to rehearsals, I thought, this is what I want: some community, different kinds of music, progressive music; when you care about different people with different orientations, that’s nice…I like the songs, the repertoire. There is always an interesting mix of music. Last season I liked guest artists Andrew Craig and the gentleman from South Africa [Bongani Magatyana]. When Andrew played that drum …I was jumping up and down. I kind of let go…I never sang in front of people before… but the choir actually holds you. I felt supported, and held by the choir and I just let go.…I feel very joyful when I sing.

Echo: You lead a very busy life in retirement, taking care of mind, body and soul. In addition to singing with Echo, you also study piano and paint. Can you talk a little about this?

BM: I have done Persian calligraphy in the past.  After attending a painting class in Alberta during a visit with relatives, I found a class with the TDSB [Toronto District School Board] and started drawing and painting. I haven’t stopped yet. I enjoy the colours…I work from a picture and put my own impression in it. With no place to store canvases, I started painting on paper. I don’t paint to sell.

Echo: Do you have any suggestions on how to improve Echo? Is there anything you would like to see?

BM: I enjoy what we do, but I would like to do more socializing. Food is a way to connect. I enjoyed the ice breakers at the beginning of the session. They gave us a chance to get to know each other.

I’m glad I found this group. If something doesn’t come up, I will be a member for a long, long time.

Behnaz lives in Toronto with her husband and their Beagle Terrier, Piper.

Interview by Christine Boyanoski

Christine Boyanoski

Second Alto

Christine was born in Montreal and grew up in Brampton, Ontario.  One constant in Christine’s life has been her interest in the arts.  As a child she loved to draw and paint, and write stories. At ten she learned to play the recorder. She sang in the Peel District School Board Special Choir, assembled in 1967 to celebrate the Centennial.  Then as a teenager Christine took classical guitar lessons and sang folk songs with her friends. 

Christine’s interest in the arts influenced her career direction.  She completed degrees in art history at the University of Toronto, and the University of London. She worked for many years as a curator at the Art Gallery of Ontario.  After completing her PhD, she has continued to curate, teach and write about art independently.

She lives in Toronto with Tommy, the grey tabby.

Echo: What was the focus of your art history studies?

CB: My doctoral thesis was on the art of the former Dominions (Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa) in the context of the British Empire. 

Echo: Which show has been the most interesting one for you to curate?

CB: They were all interesting for different reasons. At this point, I am most interested in contemporary art.  I curated a show entitled Water Works at the Art Gallery of Hamilton a few years ago where I worked with the permanent collection and contemporary artists.  It is an excellent collection and the staff were a pleasure to work with.

Echo: Your life has been steeped in music, music has been a lifelong interest of yours –who had the most influence on your love and involvement in music?

CB: My parents always encouraged me to pursue my interests and gave me recorder and guitar lessons.  My aunt and uncle, who were active supporters of the arts would take me to classical concerts and introduced me to opera.

Echo: What made you choose ECHO as a choir?

CB: I had friends in the choir and attended a couple of ECHO concerts.  The repertoire appealed to me and I appreciated that I didn’t have to audition to be accepted into the choir.  I’ve been a member for six years.

Echo: What are your favorite songs to sing from ECHO’s repertoire?

CB: I like singing in other languages such as Spanish or Serbian.  Some of my favorite music was composed by guest artists like Amanda Martinez and Annabelle Chvostek. About five years ago, I acquired an acoustic guitar so that I can accompany myself singing ECHO songs!

Echo: As a member of the board what responsibilities do you enjoy the most?

CB: I’ve been a board member for a year and a half. Recently, I’ve been conducting interviews with board members for the Echo website (except this one!). This is great way to get to know each individual in greater depth.  Everyone has a story.

Echo: What do you hope for ECHO in the future?

CB: I hope that former Echo choristers will return once we have put Covid behind us. Also, I think it is important for us to attract new members of different ages and cultural backgrounds.

Echo: Anything else you would to tell us about yourself?

CB: I want to engage with some of the activities that have sustained me, or given me pleasure in the past. Singing is one of these. Making art is another. Yoga. Engaging with and contributing to a variety of communities. Writing my book. Being open to new friendships and nurturing long-term ones.

Anne Stanley

First Soprano

Anne was a professional illustrator for thirty years (see, but now applies her creativity to home renos, gardening, sewing her own clothes, resin work, and more. A former world traveler and rock climber, she is an animal and nature lover. Anne has also been Echo’s administrator since 2009.

Born in Toronto, Anne is a proud homeowner, living with her two fur babies.

Echo: You are deeply involved with Echo in a number of different ways. Tell us more about your involvement with the choir.

AS:  For over 24 years I’ve been singing with the choir, then administrator since 2009. Having an art background, I was really happy to get this job [part-time]. I get to do all sorts of things and I really like it. I did some artwork for our CDs, then the background for the new “Rainbow Race” virtual recording. It was also an opportunity for a singleton freelance artist like me to get into a community and group. I know so much about the choir now; the Board and Artistic Directors provide support. We work together. Since Covid, I’ve been doing more online, learning new technical things.

Echo: Why did you choose to sing with Echo? What do you like best about the choir?

AS: I wanted to join a choir, I love music. But I was too shy to audition. My friends in Echo told me you don’t have to. Also, it has a sliding scale, so that if your income is lower, you have the opportunity to pay a bit less and maybe volunteer, or to pay more if you’re able.

I liked that you can come on Tuesday nights, sing, and go home. Later on, [volunteering at fundraisers] became really fun. I have become a confident singer.

Echo: Have you always been interested in music?

AS: I’ve always been intensely interested in music, always more obscure, not mainstream (Nine Inch Nails, Nick Cave). I played piano when I was younger, and alto sax and clarinet in high school – not very well. I’ve taken up ukulele in the past couple of years and really love it because it re-introduced me to all the beautiful songs I love.

Echo: Are you still active as a visual artist?

AS: Everything I do is art. I look at things through a creative lens. I’m not a professional illustrator any more. It was too stressful to earn a living, but I had a good career. I got some really good jobs over the years. What I liked best [about my career] was connecting with the client and seeing my work in print.

Echo: What does the choir mean to you on a personal level?

AS: I’ve gotten to know a lot of people as administrator – the artistic directors, board, choir members, and workshop artists. I have so many close friends from the choir. They are so good to me. When I got sick [in 2020], they visited me at the hospital, dropped off food, gave me rides to the hospital and picked up the slack when I was not at rehearsal.

Echo: You identify as a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). Tell us a bit about this personality trait and how it effects your daily life.

AS: It’s a huge part of my life. When I discovered I was, my whole life made sense. Fifteen to twenty per cent of the population are HSP. I am aware of every little thing (noises, moods of people, everything going on in my environment. I’m like a sponge collecting information and sometimes it’s just too much and I have to go home. Then there is the deep processing of all that I’ve taken in and the vast inner world. I am conscientious and empathetic. I try to put people at ease in social situations and I’m very curious about human nature. Collecting information as an administrator is the perfect job for me.

Echo: How have you coped with virtual singing offered by Echo online during Covid?

AS: I am Zoom host [for the online rehearsals], so there’s lots for me to do as I sing along. I think it would be difficult for some to sing in isolation. We’re all just doing what we can until we can get back together again.

Carolyn Gloude

First Soprano

Carolyn has lived in Ontario (Windsor, London, Ottawa, Toronto, Collingwood) all her life. She has two adult children who live in Toronto. Carolyn has sung in musical theatre and consistently in choirs, although she took a break while she was raising her children.

Carolyn has a degree in English Literature and Film History, and another in Theatre (Set and Costume Design). She has worked as an arts administrator supporting a diverse range of disciplines since 1994. Carolyn is always ready to try new things, and loves organizing. Besides singing, she enjoys being outdoors, hiking, skiing, swimming and gardening.

Echo: What is your musical background?

CG: I sang in a “triple trio” in public school and did musical theatre in high school. I also took singing lessons for several years, which I enjoyed immensely. At university, I sang with the Carleton University Choir.

My mother had a beautiful singing voice and sang all the time around the house. My father did musical theatre when they were first married. He also had a beautiful (tenor) voice.

Echo: What type of music do you most enjoy listening to?

CG: During the pandemic, I got a subscription to Spotify as a way to get access to all sorts of music, and I’m totally addicted now. I listen to Rock and Roll from the Seventies and Eighties and disco because it’s what I grew up on, and World Music (North African, Turkish). Through my work, I come in contact with local composers, whom I can access and go deeper into their music through different playlists.

Echo: How long have you been with Echo? Is it a good fit for you?

CG: Yes, a very good fit for me. I started in 2010. I took a brief hiatus when I had cancer and couldn’t go to rehearsals. Then I came back a few years later and have been singing ever since. I chose Echo because I was a hockey mom to both my son and daughter, and we had hockey every single night except Tuesdays. I looked at the Choirs Ontario website and chose Echo because they rehearse Tuesday nights. I came to the choir cold; I knew nothing about the repertoire, members or venue. And I fell in love right away—with [the artistic directors] and with the women in the choir. It was a wholly different kind of music than I had sung before. Protest songs and folk music fit with my world view, though not my musical background. I was introduced to songs with a tradition and message. It’s been fantastic!

Echo: What would you say to someone to encourage them to join Echo?

CG: It is a warm and inviting community of singers. I felt at home right away. I have been introduced to songs and music (Georgian music, Shape Notes) that I would never have stumbled upon on my own.

Echo: What do you hope to contribute to the board?

CG: I’m hoping to help Echo find new ways of funding (a skill I have developed by working for a funder) to bring in more money to help us make our music. Also, I think we do a good job of addressing social and economic diversity among our members, but we need to work on increasing racial and age diversity, and to help new singers to join the choir. Increasing the public events that we participate in, like Sing! [The Toronto Vocal Arts Festival] may be good ways to attract new singers.

Cathy Goring

Second Soprano

Cathy moved to Toronto from Montreal in the late 1970s when there were rumblings that Quebec might split from the rest of Canada. She worked for many years as a counselor and educator in health care. Now happily retired, Cathy lives with her husband and two rescue cats, When not singing, she spends time gardening, making jewelry, weaving, cycling, reading and travelling.

Echo: Before joining Echo in 1997, you had discovered that you really enjoyed choral singing when you joined a church choir in the 1980s. Did you have any musical training?

CG: I really love church music so in spite of my lack of musical training I decided to try singing in a church choir.  I can’t sight read music but have a good ear.  Based on my singing range I was placed in the second soprano section.  This turned out to be good thing because this section tends to have the melody which I love to sing.

Singing is also a legacy thing for me. My grandmother, whom I never met, was a professional musician. She played the violin and sang on the CBC.  My mother also had a beautiful voice, and sang as a soloist in choirs in Montreal.  When she spoke of choral singing her eyes would light up with joy.  Unfortunately she was a heavy smoker and stopped singing prematurely. When I quit smoking, I looked for things I could do that would keep me from smoking again. Joining ECHO choir became a way to keep healthy, reduce stress and maintain my voice. It feels great to be able to still sing.

Echo: When you first saw Echo perform, what did you like most about the choir that led you to join? What made you stay?

CG: The choir was just one row of a dozen women. Many were members from Holy Trinity church; the church where choir practice takes place.  I knew Becca Whitla, one of the original artistic directors.  She led the choir in a relaxed performance of folk pieces. There was a range of ages, and it seemed like a friendly, inviting group. Not overly pressured. People who have formal musical training or none at all can find a place in the choir and perform pieces that are fairly sophisticated.

Being in the choir for twenty-five years has been wonderful. It’s a great way to connect with people who share a love of singing.  Under the direction our Artistic Directors, my knowledge and taste in music has been broadened. The repertoire is best described as unusual, challenging, and delightful. We sing in different languages such as Hungarian and Mandarin and many our songs focus on social justice. We collaborate with guest musicians and sing really interesting pieces. We have also had the pleasure performing unique works composed specifically for Echo. The concert at the end of each term is a real motivator. It is exciting, energizing, the culmination of everything we’ve worked towards. It is an opportunity to create something lovely.

Echo: How long have you been on the Board? Why did you join?

CG: I’ve been on the Board for four years. It is another way of supporting the choir and gives you a different perspective on how the choir is run. There is quite a bit of work to do. I’ve helped to organize some of our fundraisers and create surveys to collect feedback from choir members about their experience with the choir.

Echo: What would you say to a prospective choir member?

CG: If you enjoy singing a broad range of music in a relaxed, egalitarian atmosphere with other people, this is the right place for you.

Jennie Ucar

First Soprano

Jennie is a retired teacher and primary school principal with the Toronto District School Board. Over her career, she conducted both primary and junior choirs, and taught music for several years. She is the mother of three and grandmother of four children. Jennie is currently Chair of Echo’s Board, and also sits on the board of the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition, an environmental advocacy group.

Echo: Where did your love of  music come from?

JU: All the way from my early childhood. I started piano lessons at seven, I was always in the choir at school and joined the church choir as soon as I could. Our family has a tradition of singing together. And we still have that tradition now. All three of my children are musical in different ways. Music gives you such joy. You feel better.

Echo: What first attracted you to Echo Women’s Choir? What appeals to you most about the choir? How does it compare with the other choirs you have belonged to?

JU: I was a music teacher; [about twenty years ago] Alan [Gasser] was working with the TDSB as part of their international music program and came to teach Georgian music to my students and the junior choir. At that time, I was looking for a choir and he told me about Echo Women’s Choir. I had to wait a year and a half to get in. One of the things that appeals to me about Echo is the international music aspect of it. It is interesting and challenging. It’s not only learning another language, but learning different kinds of musical tones and scales. I also love the visiting artists; we learn from all sorts of other musicians, not just the directors. I had belonged to other choirs, but their repertoire didn’t inspire me. I love folk music from around the world.

Echo: During your twenty years with Echo, you have served twice as chair of the Board of Directors. How have you seen the choir evolve during this time? In what direction do you see it going?

JU: I joined the board during my second year with the choir, for a four-year term, then again, a few years ago. During my involvement with the board, we rewrote the by-laws to be specific to Echo.  We shifted fundraising events to be more participatory, fun, and social, and to a different venue from Holy Trinity. When I first joined, there were no other choirs like Echo; now there are many to choose from.

Since Covid, we’ve had to pivot to online meetings and rehearsals. This has regrettably left out members who find it difficult to follow the scores without the benefit of hearing other voices. We have not been learning international music as much during this period.

There was a big change when the co-founder and co-director Becca Whitla left a couple of years ago. She had contributed an energy and personal perspective that have been missed. The onset of Covid put a hold on hiring a new assistant conductor, since many of our sources of revenue dried up. I am optimistic that once we can hold concerts and in-person fundraisers again, we will fill this position.

 Hopefully, we can get back together in January, or perhaps adopt a hybrid solution where some members attend online while others attend in person.

Ximena Escobar

Second Soprano

Ximena has lived in Toronto for four decades. She came to Canada with her family from Ecuador after a military coup in the late 1970s. Her father, Carlos, who had a strong influence on Ximena, impressed the importance of education upon his six children. She holds five degrees from University of Toronto, York University and Universidad Complutence in Madrid. Ximena has worked in the non-profit sector for most of her career and is a strong advocate for social justice.

In addition to singing in the choir, Ximena also finds joy in her weekly family gatherings, which include all sixteen members, including her mother, siblings and nieces and nephews. They spend time together discussing politics, watching soccer and eating. Ximena is a self-proclaimed foodie who loves to eat out and travel.

Echo: What inspired you to join the choir?

XE: I joined the choir in the fall of 2014, the same year that my father was diagnosed with lymphoma. We were very close; he was a very strong influence in my life. I was having a very hard time dealing with his diagnosis, and sought help.  I was advised to get in touch with my feminine side (I socialized and worked mostly with men at that time) and engage in an activity that was about being in the moment, like music, singing. Following her suggestion, I joined Echo Women’s Choir. They practiced in a church. And that is how I began singing with women in a spiritual space. My father attended Echo’s winter concert, and passed away soon after.

Echo: What do you like most about the choir?

XE: I like the diversity of the choristers who come from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds and have different levels of music knowledge. The singers represent a diverse cross-section of society, with a common love of music. You all have other lives and interests. Another reason I have stayed with the choir is their commitment to social justice. It is a good fit for me. I do a lot of volunteer work with Social Justice organizations.

Echo: Where does your interest in music come from?

XE: From my father. He made sure that we all had some basic knowledge of how to read music. He listened to all sorts of music, and he whistled every morning. He had a keen aesthetic sense, even making flower arrangements. He believed that life was to live.

Echo:  You have just begun a second term on Echo’s Board of Directors, and recently offered to help manage the choir’s finances. What would you like to contribute to the Board?

XE:  A number of years ago, I participated in a program called “Diversity on Boards” that provided training for board members, and included such things as public speaking and interviewing. I have fourteen years of experience on two other boards where I was involved in finance (what I do in my day job) and fundraising. These are areas in which I can contribute to Echo’s Board.

Echo: Is there anything else you would like to add?

XE: I have no issue with having a man as Artistic Director of a women’s choir. It provides a good balance!

Susan Daly

First Soprano

Susan has spent most of her life in Toronto, except for “seven years in exile in the wilds of Suburban Montreal, and that ten-year sentence in Mississauga.” Now retired from the corporate world, she spends her time making miniature models, reading, quilting, and writing short crime fiction “as a way of fighting for social justice.” In 2017, she won the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Short Story from Crime Writers of Canada in 2017. Susan enjoys canoeing and kayaking and spending time at the cottage in summer. She has a daughter and three grandsons. She is recording secretary of the Echo board of directors.

Echo: You have been in choirs for most of your life—school,  church and the Bicycle Choir—before you joined Echo in 2002.

SD: I’ve always belonged to a choir. I haven’t had music lessons but I have basic sight reading capacity.  I’d love to be able to play an instrument. I spent years all my life dabbling with instruments and never realIy got proficient with any of them. I have a lovely guitar and a dulcimer that I’ve just had repaired. The dulcimer is quite easy to play and has a nice old, folky sound. During Covid, I got a ukelele and tried doing lessons online but I found I need live lessons from a real person.

The Bicycle Choir was started in the 1990s. We would sing while riding our bikes, but mostly we performed songs with “bicyclized” lyrics at environmental and political events,  or just for fun. It lasted until around 2002, and lives on in songs and memories.

Echo: What does singing mean to you? What do you like most about Echo?

SD: Being able to make a joyful noise in harmony with others.I like the common mindset of Echo members: we sing meaningful songs about social justice and the environment, as well as folk music. We support each other in singing. The Zoom rehearsals during Covid have been a good interim measure, but I’m getting a little worn out after two years.I’m ready for a good session of singing together.

Echo: The other consistent activity in your life has been writing. After retirement, you began writing crime fiction and are now a published author. Tell us about your work as crime writer—why you chose this genre, what inspires you, etc.

SD: I have always had to write. I love reading traditional type crime stories (not so much the latest popular sub-genre —  psychological thrillers). Crime fiction has a shape to it; at the end, there is a restoration of order. I use Canadian settings because this is where I live and I know the mindset. I couldn’t write from an American point of view, because I would be thinking differently. As for inspiration, I like writing short stories to submit to anthologies where I am given a theme and a deadline. I begin working with an idea, and it grows. I want a likable protagonist who tries to right a wrong—which isn’t necessarily about sleuthing.

 Echo: In addition to Echo, you belong to Sisters in Crime. What is its purpose?

SD: Sisters in Crime is an American organization with Canadian chapters. It is not a writing group where members critique each other’s writing. We hold meetings with guest speakers and support women crime writers. You don’t have to be a woman to belong, but you have to support the concept of women crime writers. It was founded thirty years ago because there wasn’t enough recognition for women crime writers.