The White Heron Chorale will mark 35 years of performing with a concert on Saturday.
The White Heron Chorale's 35th anniversary reunion concert is a celebration of where the ensemble has been, where it is now and where it is headed.
Organizers chose the program theme "How Can I Keep from Singing?," a song that is an anthem of sorts for the 75-member auditioned, mixed-voice ensemble.
During this spring concert, five current and former White Heron Chorale conductors - all but two of the conductors who have led the chorale - each conduct pieces of their choice. Chorale alumni join in the concert's opening song, "Antiphon" ("Let all the world in every corner sing"), and the finale, "How Can I Keep from Singing?"
"I think the (finale) kind of highlights what we've been doing for 35 years," said artistic director and conductor Phillip Swan, who also is co-director of choral studies at Lawrence University in downtown Appleton.
"It's an idea that it is within most musicians that they have to continue to perform musically and be involved in music once it's a part of (them). The personnel in the group ... have the desire to just sing and communicate high-quality literature within our community. ... We live in a community that is supportive of the arts, and that's exciting that they have supported the group this long as well."
The concert starts at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Lawrence Memorial Chapel at Lawrence.
David Saladino, who now is retired and living in Berea, Ky., is the ensemble's founding director.
Saladino, who directed the group from 1978 until 1981, saw the ensemble, then known as the Wisconsin Vocal Ensemble, through a period of finding its niche.
He said the ensemble - then a 30-member group - reached a significant milestone early on when it combined with Lawrence singers to perform The St. Matthew Passion, a Bach oratorio. Visiting American conductor Margaret Hillis led the singers.
"This was a major undertaking by Lawrence and the Wisconsin Vocal Ensemble to perform this work, which is not easy to perform and not often performed," Saladino said. "In the second year, that was one catalyst of the group, knowing it was capable of doing excellent work. That was a shot in the arm."
Saladino said it was common at the time for community vocal ensembles to fold after the second year.
"Making it past year two, that's the hurdle," he said. "Appleton is a unique place in the arts. There is a highly educated populace that has sung in high school and college choirs where it is natural for them to continue on."
Rick Bjella conducted the chorale for 25 of its 35 years. Bjella, who is director of choral studies at Texas Tech University, now lives in Lubbock, Texas.
"Thirty-five years of a community choir thriving, not just existing, is quite a legacy to be honored," Bjella said.
The chorale's outreach to the community has remained a constant, he said.
"That has always been a mission of the White Heron Chorale ... having ... repertoire that touches people in different ways and music that intersects with people, trying to be a real community connection for everyone who wants to hear choral music," Bjella said.
Steve Sieck, who conducted a concert of opera choruses in March 2011, said it's difficult to build such a community ensemble with staying power.
"It's a culture you create," said Sieck, co-director of choral studies alongside Swan at Lawrence. "When you create a culture, anyone who moves into town who has sung at college or sang in church and says, 'I want to get back into singing,' you say, You have to sing with the White Heron Chorale."
Cindy Cook of Freedom is among the handful of singers who are founding members of the White Heron Chorale.
Cook, who sang in high school, college and in other communities, said she relishes the challenge of performing with the chorale.
"I love to participate with other singers who feel the same way about music as I do," Cook said.
Kate Tamarkin, music director of the Charlottesville & University Symphony in Virginia, said she treasured her time with the chorale and looks forward to conducting during the reunion concert.
"My career has mostly been orchestral with some amount of opera," said Tamarkin, who conducted the chorale from 1983-85. "This is a genre I rarely get to touch, so it will be a complete treat, and just to appreciate how much the group has grown, and to get to hear them."
Founding member Carol Jegen of Appleton said the ensemble's longevity is due to all of the leaders, singers and audience members who have realized the ensemble's value.
"Groups are sometimes only around where there is a charismatic individual that is the conductor, and when they leave, it disintegrates," Jegen said. "This is a strong body of people. And we have a strong community connection."
- Kara Patterson's Words of Art column focuses on Fox Valley arts each Sunday. She's reachable at 920-993-1000, ext. 215, or email@example.com; on Twitter @ArtsMinded