In 1968, Cynthia Ingram and Harriet Ward decided it was time Concord had its own choral group.
Until then, they’d been traveling out of town with other capital area residents to get their singing fixes. Susan O’Donnell of Hopkinton was one of these people; she remembers how she and Ingram trekked to Manchester every week to practice with the Frederick Smyth Chorale. It wasn’t an extremely long drive, but at that point in their lives, they had families to care for and children to tuck in bed. Manchester was becoming further and further away.
So they built the Concord Chorale. The first concert occurred May 9, 1969, and it contained a cast of 41 singers. O’Donnell was part of that group, 28 at the time, and she remains today as just one of two original members. (The other is Elizabeth Black.)
Today, the organization offers up a chorus of 80 and it celebrates its 45th season with a large-scale concert on Sunday, May 18, at 3 p.m., at the Capitol Center for the Arts. They’ll perform Joseph Haydn’s masterwork, “The Creation,” accompanied by a very large orchestra — perhaps the largest that’s ever played with the chorale — and guest soloists Martha Guth (soprano), Eapen Leubner (tenor) and Brian Kontes (bass).
The chorale doesn’t normally perform in such a big venue as the Cap Center, but special arrangements were made for this piece.
“With a piece as big as this, we needed a big stage to accommodate the size of the orchestra and choir,” said music director Kristofer Johnson in a phone interview. “This is my first time conducting ‘The Creation’ because of the demands of it.”
“The Creation” is a piece Johnson’s wanted to do all his career. It’s the story of Creation, taken from Milton’s Paradise Lost, but it’s “delightful, fun, springy music,” great for May, Johnson said.
“It’s one of the most important pieces ever written for a choir and orchestra together,” Johnson said. “We’d been singing Haydn to get ready for the festival, and so it seemed like a natural match.”
It’s a big year for the chorale, and not just because of the anniversary and the extravagant concert; they’re in the midst of a multi-year Haydn project that culminates this summer when the chorale performs as the choir-in-residence at the Classical Music Festival in Eisenstaedt, Austria, with Johnson to serve at the Chorus Master for the Festival.
“I love being part of the chorale,” Johnson said. “It’s a group that has ambitions, that wants to do great music, and to do it really well.”
Ingram and Ward were the movers and shakers in getting the thing going, but the credit for the group’s ongoing success and ambition has to do with each individual member. Besides the musical director and collaborative pianist, there are no paid members.
“What totally amazes me here is that, here we are, 45 years after this group of women got together, and I think, thank goodness they did this!” said Monique Dosogne, chorale president, who’s been involved since 1987. “It’s been up to all of us to keep this going. … I believe it’s because of the people who are in it. We care about the organization and the importance behind our mission.”
That’s how it’s always been, said O’Donnell, even at the beginning. She remembers when the chorale hired Phyllis Isaacson after the first few seasons. Her joining was a turning point for the group.
“She was just tremendous,” O’Donnell said. “She had a strong personality, and she was really into getting us well-known. We had a public carol sing at the Statehouse Plaza. Sometimes we’d go out of town. … She submitted a tape of what we did to the Music Educators National Conference, and we were chosen to perform. She did a lot of things like that.”
After 45 years, there are a few things that pop out in O’Donnell’s memory, like when they performed Carmina Burana at Saint Anselm with a ballet group and their trip to Israel in 1982. (“I won’t ever forget it. It sort of changed my life,” O’Donnell said. Their singing tour in Israel happened during the country’s war with Lebanon.)
“But then there were some concerts we’d give in Concord — the music was so magnificent that, at the end of the concert, you felt somehow spiritually uplifted,” O’Donnell said. “One of the wonderful things about the chorale is that you never know what you’re going to sing. I’ve broadened my musical appreciation to things like contemporary music, which is very interesting and very challenging.”
For some members, the chorale’s been like a family.
“There was a time when I had health issues, and friends in the chorale signed up to bring me meals at my house. People don’t just come to sing — we’ve really become extended family,” Dosogne said.
She’s looking forward to what’s ahead.
“I think we ought to get another 45 years out of it. I’m looking forward to year 50,” Dosogne said. “I think it’ll be a blast.”
As seen in the May 15, 2014 issue of the Hippo.