If he psychs himself up for it, basso profundo David Michael Legget can still hit the C below the bass line. And for the past two years he’s been the director of a reincarnated choir of 50-somethings that he founded nearly five decades ago. By the way, he turns 80 at Halloween.
A high school dropout-“I quit school in grade 11 because I was having too much fun and not making any progress,” Legget had a way with words and an eye for good pictures. So he soon became a reporter and photographer at a small-town newspaper and then at the Montreal Star. Later, he traded his camera and notepad for chalk and pointer, becoming a grade school teacher in the mid-1960s.
“I started music lessons at age four,” Legget says. Later, trained in piano at Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music, a child member of Toronto’s St. Simon-the-Apostle Church choir under Eric Lewis, and an assistant organist at Grace Church on-the-Hill under Giles Bryant, Legget specialized in music teaching. While on staff at Fern Avenue Public School in the Little Poland district of Toronto’ west end, he founded the school choir and instrumental groups. In its first year the choir placed first in 17 of 18 competitions.
“He turned the school’s entire music program around,” says Shireen Whitmore, 57, a Fern alumna and a current chorus member. And in what was then a rough neighbourhood of recent immigrants, he created a haven for kids who often came from troubled homes. “He showed them something different from what they faced in their daily lives,” says Whitmore, a Toronto property administrator.
No one, least of all Legget, wanted to see the fine singing come to an end, so in 1970, he brought together some of his former pupils, now in high school, in the Fern Alumni Chorus and Orchestra. In its second year, it made a well-received church tour of England, Scotland and Wales, performing in high-profile venues such as Canterbury Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. The first alumni chorus disbanded in 1980 but that was not to be the end of it.
Although he recently stepped down as head, Leggett re-established the choir in March 2012, after reconnecting with many of his former pupils at a reunion in a downtown Toronto hotel. As 110 of his former charges serenaded his arrival, he stepped right up to direct them. Afterwards, he uttered words that were music to the choristers’ ears, “What do you say we get together once a month and do this?”
Specializing in sacred music but mixing things up with Broadway show tunes and traditional ballads, the new group (“the Alumni-Alumni Chorus,” as it members fondly call it)” rehearses two Sunday afternoons a month at St. Martin-in-the- Fields. Its most recent concert at St. Martin on Mothers’ Day, 2014, raised $1,000 for the Toronto Star Fresh Air Fund, a camping program for disadvantaged kids.
“He sure has inspired us over the decades,” says chorus member and Fern graduate Jackson Freeman, 54, an auto mechanic with a passion for music who owns a heavy truck alignment shop. “He has a big heart and he has always treated us as one of his own children
He also challenged them. “We were one of the few of the grade 7 and 8 choirs to sing Attwood’s coronation piece, I was glad when they said unto me,” Freeman recalls. Over the years, he and his brother have often had “Aw, Legget” moments as some piece of music triggered poignant recollections of their formative experiences under his tutelage.
Says Whitmore, “He lifted up young minds and set people on a better, more positive path. He made young people aware of the possibilities.”