City conductor helping choirs find their way

With years of education and performance experience overseas, Tomas Bijok has a lot to offer singers of Kamloops — and he’s trying his hardest through his involvement with several of the city’s choirs.

Bijok comes from a musical family. His father made a living building pianos for Petrof in the former Czechoslovakia and sung, himself — although that changed when the family became refugees in Bosnia-Herzegovina before immigrating to Vancouver in the 1980s.

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Bijok and family lived in Vancouver for eight years before moving to Kamloops. After growing up here, Bijok pursued music education at the University of British Columbia.

While performing with a UBC ensemble back in the Czech Republic, Bijok decided to reach out to the renowned Performing Arts Academy in Prague. After he auditioned, he was welcomed to study at the school as one of just a handful of students accepted each year.

“I realized there was industry there in music, in theatre. It was alive and active,” he said.

Bijok spent six years in Prague studying and playing with world class musicians and teachers.

What followed were intense tours, performing in the Czech Republic, Germany, Austria, Japan and France.

Although he was seeing success as a performer, after facing down a tour schedule that saw him perform 22 shows in 30 days, Bijok said he began to question if this was what he wanted.

“It came to a point where I asked myself, am I going to pursue this for the rest of my life, or am I going to do something else?” he said.

He returned to Kamloops and began doing private lessons in his home before spotting an opportunity with Thompson Rivers University. He waited months for the position to open up, but eventually it did and he began teaching first-year music courses.

Later, Bijok was behind the push to add second-year music courses — something TRU has never offered before — and was successful.

But where Bijok has spent much of his time has not been in the classroom — it has been with many of the city’s choirs.

Currently, Bijok works with the Kamloops Symphony Orchestra Chorus, the TRU Chamber Chorus, the Happy Choristers and soon, the Kamloops Pride Choir — running the gamut in terms of age and experience.

The Happy Choristers are a 55-plus group that often performs concerts in places like seniors’ homes as part of its outreach work.

Bijok said he doesn’t see many differences between the age groups he works with, and really just wants to encourage everyone to sing.

“People tend to have this idea that once they reach a certain age, their voices start to go and they can’t sing anymore — I find that very rarely to be the case, unless there’s a medical condition,” he said.

Bijok Tomas Choristers choir chorus
Tomas Bijok directs the Happy Choristers at an event at The Shores seniors’ home on May 3. - Dave Eagles/KTW

Bijok and the Kamloops Happy Choristers will be at St. Andrews on the Square, 159 Seymour St., on Sunday at 4 p.m. to perform a variety songs, including Celtic, love songs and selections from the Great American Songbook. Admission is by donation.

While Bijok said the church is an excellent venue, acoustically, he advocated for a more performance venues.

“Kamloops is in a strange situation right now. We decided not to build a theatre a few years ago, and now one truss broke in the Sagebrush and we don’t have any performance venues,” he said.

The Sagebrush Theatre closed in February and is not expected to re-open until September.

Bijok said he does want to see the Sagebrush fixed, but said it should be a venue for the high school as it was originally intended, and one of the city’s only performing arts venues.

“We have so much art and culture happening in Kamloops. These things should not go to referendum. These should be city decisions. There is millions of dollars being spent around the city in other areas that are just a given. This should be a given. I think we’ve overlooked that for far too long. If the arena needed fixing, we wouldn’t bat an eye,” he said.

© Kamloops This Week


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