“To me, it’s always amazing how the guys come and keep coming to sing,” says Russ Regier. The guys he refers to are A Buncha Guys, an informal choir made up of young men in their early post-high school years.
In late 1997, Regier and his wife Val were asked to lead a choir of young men at Mount Royal Mennonite Church in Saskatoon, where they are members. “We decided to keep going after Christmas,” he says. “The guys invited their Shekinah connections,” and the choir grew from there.
For many years, the Regiers have hosted the choir in their home every Sunday evening from September through the end of April. Rehearsals last two hours and are followed by a snack. “Then the visiting can happen, and I get a chance to talk with them,” says Regier.
Over the years, most singers have been Rosthern Junior College (RJC) alumni. Others, as Regier notes, have been campers and counsellors at Shekinah Retreat Centre. This year, a number of choir members are graduates of Canadian Mennonite University.
When Regier initially approached Shekinah staff about renting their Timber Lodge for a Christmas concert, he was told, “Forget the rent, we’ll take an offering.” And so the concert became a fundraising event for the camp. It was sold out before the end of October. What began as a one-time event has turned into an annual tradition. Each December, the choir performs two concerts—one in Saskatoon, the other at Shekinah—with offerings taken for the camp.
The Guys are also the featured entertainment at RJC’s annual Guys and Pies fundraising event. While pies are served, the choir sings. Between sets, cakes are auctioned, and it has become a matter of pride for the singers to purchase the highest-selling cake. This year, they paid $7,500 for a confection created by the wife and father-in-law of one of the choir members.
Although the cause has varied from year to year, A Buncha Guys’ spring concert is also a fundraiser. This wasn’t the intention when the choir began. “Nothing about this was intentional,” says Regier. Over the years, many of the singers have been students, or in the early stages of careers, and this may be on his mind when he adds, “It’s a nice way to donate if you don’t have money.”
This year A Buncha Guys prepared a special 20-year reunion concert. The current choir, along with 25 former members—A Buncha Guys alumni—met for a weekend of rehearsals. The performance, held April 30, 2017, in Saskatoon’s Knox United Church, garnered an offering of in excess of $20,000 for Mennonite Central Committee Saskatchewan.
A Buncha Guys’ performs ‘Sea Walker’ by Tim Spencer at their spring 2017 concert in Saskatoon. (Video by Donna Schulz)
A Buncha Guys is not an auditioned choir. Anyone who wants to sing is welcome. Members are recruited by word of mouth. Since its inception, says Regier, well over 100 men have claimed membership in the choir, some for as little as three months, others for more than 10 years.
The Guys sing a broad range of music, from baroque to bluegrass. The Regiers try to choose music suited to the abilities of each year’s group. The words they sing are also important. “It’s important that the text speaks to people,” says Regier. “It needs to be biblically sound and faith-based. The music is chosen more for the singers than for the audience.” Not all selections are spiritual in nature. Folk songs such as “Loch Lomond” combine with pop tunes like “Sweet Caroline” to add variety to the program.
But the choir isn’t just about singing. It’s also about community. “It feels to me the guys are comfortable here, accepted here,” says Regier. “We hope it’s a place you can come and sing with other guys who like to sing.”
The Regiers feel they benefit from leading the choir as well. “It’s been a very pleasant experience to get to know the guys,” says Val. She appreciates the fact that “they’ve let us into their world.” Regier says the two-hour rehearsals go by quickly, and admits he feels energized by them. “I get a lot of adrenalin from the group,” he says, adding, “It’s good to be part of young people’s lives.”