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Posted 24 Feb 2001   For week ended December 01, 2000
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News about Mormons, Mormonism,
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Sent on Mormon-News: 29Nov00

By Kent Larsen

LDS Musician's Homeless Choir Changes Lives

MONTREAL, CANADA -- A LDS immigrant from France has made a difference in the lives of 20 homeless men in a unique way -- by making them into a choir. Since Pierre Anthian formed the Accueil Bonneau Choir (aka Montreal Homeless Choir) in 1996, the choir members have gained attention and appreciation worldwide, both for the extraordinary nature of the choir and for the enthusiasm they bring to their music. And choir members have gained, too, splitting the proceeds of their concerts and gaining stability from simply participating.

Anthian is a classically trained musician from southern France who takes his LDS religion seriously, devoting much of his time to helping the disadvantaged. Growing up, he volunteered in hospitals and seniors homes. While living in Cannes, France he was director of the church choir.

While living in Paris and volunteering at the city's largest shelter, la Mie de Pain, Anthian got the idea to create a choir of homeless men. "Music is good for the soul. I hoped a choir might provide these men with a way to earn a little money and to gain self-confidence and dignity."

But before he could start a choir in Paris, Anthian immigrated to Canada to join his brother and sister-in-law in Montreal. With a background in dental technology, Anthian soon started a denture laboratory, and quickly found a place to continue working with the homeless; he started working at Accueil Bonneau, a Montreal shelter.

After working there for a year, Anthian put his idea in practice. He put out a call for choir members among Montreal's homeless, putting up posters and handing out leaflets announcing practice and indicating that musical experience and training were not necessary. The only qualification was that members must show up for practice on time and sober.

While the choir started small, just three people showed up for the first rehearsal, it quickly grew to its present size of 20, and gave its first concert on December 17, 1996 in a Montreal subway station, now the choir's unofficial home concert hall. The commuters in the station were enchanted with the choir, and in two hours the loose change given to the group totaled $800.

Since then, Anthian has extended the choir, promoting it as a model for similar groups worldwide. With help and careful planning, the group, many of whom had never before been on a plane, traveled to Paris, where the choir performed at the Canadian ambassador's residence, among other places. The choir members were overwhelmed by the courtesy they were shown, says Anthian, "They weren't used to that."

Anthian hasn't stopped promoting the group, either. They have traveled to New York City to perform and are planning another trip, a tour of France, Switzerland and Belgium. And the group has been instrumental in raising funds for homeless causes, such as the new Acceuil Bonneau shelter, built after the first was destroyed in a June 1998 gas explosion. Longer-term, Anthian hopes the choir can care for its own members, "I dream of raising enough for a retirement fund for choir members," he says. "Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could give old Colas $1,000 a month for the rest of his life so he'd never again have to worry about where to sleep or whether he'd eat? Wouldn't that be truly wonderful?"

But best of all, the choir has given its members a source of income, and a sense of pride. "Usually, there's enough for meals or necessities," says Anthian. But members say they no longer live a nomadic existence, the choir has given them a sense of order and structure. All but one get regular social assistance and all but two now have a permanent place to live.


A Song in Their Hearts
Readers Digest Canada (Imperial Oil Review) 1Dec00 P2
By Shona McKay
They were homeless in Montreal, yet they captivated audiences worldwide -- and turned their lives around


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