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
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
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