Singing the song of the 'Homeless'

MONTREAL, Quebec The metro system here is much like that in any other large city — people of many backgrounds and ages rushing to a subway here or there; some are polite, some not so polite.

And there are the usual homeless. But one group of homeless men is unusual. They give roses to listeners. They smile and wave. But most of all, they serenade you. They are the Chorale de l'Accueil Bonneau — the choir of the Bonneau Catholic mission shelter.

The mission is headed by a nun; the choir is directed by a Latter-day Saint.

Pierre Anthian, 39, of the Hochelaga Ward, Montreal Quebec Stake, founded the choir in 1996, with the support of the mission where he volunteered. He volunteered in homeless shelters in Paris, France, where he lived until moving to Montreal in 1995. Here, he continued this practice. But one day he became "fed up just giving food. If we could involve them, give them work, help them, not just give food," he told the Church News after a concert in the metro. He explained he wanted to do something "with them," rather than just "for them."

A dental technician by trade, Brother Anthian also had conservatory music training in France. With permission from the mission, he began recruiting homeless men for a choir. At first, only three or four a week showed up for rehearsal. Weekly that number grew. Today, the choir averages some 20 men. They have given more than 1,000 concerts — most in the Metro tunnels, but as their fame grew, they have performed in New York City, in Paris, and for a TV documentary. Their repertoire includes French and American folk songs, ballads, modern pop and religious pieces — including several LDS hymns. They have also produced two CDs which include "Homeless," by LDS composer Michael McLean.

Members of the choir are now self-supportive, living off proceeds from concerts. And Brother Anthian works full-time now for the mission directing the choir. Without Pierre, said choir member Michel, their new lives would not have been possible.

"We are 20 guys who had a difficult time communicating with each other, but with Pierre, when we sing we can express ourselves. It's a friendship. Pierre made us look forward, not backward," he explained through an interpreter.

There are standards choir members must live to remain with the choir. They forgo alcohol, drugs and violence; they must respect each other and the public. Choir member Claude, who has sung now for three years, said his life has been changed "altogether. It made somebody out of me. Before I was nobody. I was drinking quite a bit and now I don't drink anymore. I even stopped smoking."

Brother Anthian explained that most of these men were not homeless because of choice, but because of tragedies in their lives. When asked why he does this, Brother Anthian simply replies: "Because I'm a Latter-day Saint. We have to help the world."

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