So you think you can sing? Well, join a chorus
Seattle Times music critic
Everyone owns one musical instrument, and it travels around with you.
It's your voice.
It comes free of charge, and you're born knowing how to use it (just ask the parents of any newborn). It is so distinctively yours that a recording of it can be used as legal evidence, just like your fingerprint.
No wonder singing is the No. 1 form of arts participation according to a 2003 Chorus America survey, which also found that an estimated 28.5 million Americans regularly performed in one of America's approximately 250,000 choruses. Empirical evidence suggests those numbers continue to rise.
Why do people love to sing? According to the veteran choral conductor Weston Noble, it's because this is the only art form that unites two important avenues of artistic communication: music and words.
"Choral music is literally life-changing," Noble said in an interview last year. "When you add a text to use as a medium for the interpretation of music, you go beyond the realm of language and into the spirit."
Here, in the greater Seattle area, the wealth of choruses of all kinds points to the fact that "this is a big choral town," according to the Seattle Pro Musica's Karen P. Thomas. Thomas, whose highly successful chorus recently became one of only seven nationwide to receive an American masterpieces grant to host a major choral festival next June (plus several outreach concerts and educational events). The festival will bring in choirs from around the Northwest, plus such major figures as Dale Warland and Morten Lauridsen.
"It's human nature to communicate verbally," says Thomas, who also points to the egalitarian nature of singing: "It embraces everyone."
And choral singing fulfills a number of other roles. Choruses advance social goals, such as the quest for peace and tolerance. Church and other religious choirs express and further a religious mission. Ethnic choirs are an important avenue of cultural transmission and celebration. And all choirs expose their singers to other languages, eras and cultures through their choice of music.
And you're never too old. The esteemed Seattle voice teacher Roberta Manion, now living in a retirement community, leads an informal chorus whose oldest member is 105: "The love of singing lasts a lifetime," Manion says.
Some choruses are full of highly skilled professional singers and music teachers who must pass rigorous auditions; others accept anyone who shows up and wants to sing, and many others fall somewhere in between.
Below, you'll find an adult-choral compilation that is fairly inclusive (the huge array of children's choirs is another subject). Many choruses require annual dues. The fall season is a good time to join in.
Bellevue Chamber Chorus, an Eastside chorus of 30-40, is directed by Fredrick Lokken; membership requires a 10-minute audition (www.bellevuechamberchorus.net, 425-881-0445).
Cantare Vocal Ensemble, an auditioned 40-member chorus, specializes in performing lesser-known choral works along with popular repertoire. Artistic director Mark Adrian is seeking sopranos and basses. (http://www.nwassociatedarts .org/cantare/, 206-246-6040).
Cascadian Chorale, founded in 1964 and led by Philip Tschopp, is an auditioned Eastside chorus with a chamber subgroup, the Cascadian Singers. (206-286-6028, www.cascadianchorale.org).
Choir of the Sound, a 100-voice chorus founded in 1977 and affiliated with Shoreline Community College, is led by Judy Filibeck in performances that often feature staging, lighting and choreography. (206-528-9990,www.choirofthesound.org)
Choral Arts, a very select 30-voice professional choral ensemble founded by Richard Sparks, is now auditioning top candidates for a new artistic director. (www.choral-arts.org).
Choral Sounds Northwest, an 80-voice chorus in Burien, performs with choreography, sets and costumes. Interim director Dave Spring welcomes new singers via audition, no experience necessary (www.nwassociatedarts.org, 206-246-6040).
City Cantabile Choir, founded in 1981 by artistic director Fred West, is an auditioned chorus that performs music of many cultures and styles, from jazz to African and Celtic works (www.citycantabilechoir.org).
The Esoterics, the award-winning 36-voice auditioned professional-quality chorus devoted to new repertoire, is a "project" chorus; not all members sing all 20 annual concerts. Eric Banks is the founding director (www.theesoterics.org).
Issaquah Chorale, founded in 1991, is a 50-member auditioned chorus led by Linda Gingrich, has a season that includes annual visits to Benaroya Hall; www.issaquahchorale.org.
Issaquah Singers, now in its 30th year, performs lighter repertoire; the 30-50 voice chorus is led by Dorothy Hay, and no auditions are required (www.issaquahsingers.com, 425-837-9662).
Kirkland Choral Society, led by Glenn Gregg, is in its 18th season; 70 members make it the Eastside's largest chorus. To audition: email@example.com.
Lake Washington Singers, a 30-voice non-audition, secular women's chorus, sings pop/classics and show tunes, with piano, bass and percussion. They're looking for altos (425-458-4521, http://www.lakewashingtonsingers.org).
Medieval Women's Choir, 60-voice non-auditioned chorus devoted to medieval music, is directed by eminent scholar Margriet Tindemans; (206-264-4822, www.medievalwomenschoir.org).
Music Center of the Northwest has several community choruses, including the Daylight Singers (for 55+, led by Adam Burdick), Women's Chorale (open to all women, led by Erin Walker); there's an annual Sing/Play the "Messiah" event, (206-526-8443, www.mcnw.org).
Northwest Chorale, a 60-voice North Seattle-based chorus with a mission — to feed the poor — gives free concerts with donations requested for food banks. Informal auditions (www.nwchorale.org).
Norwegian Male Chorus of Seattle is one of several Norwegian choruses in Everett, Tacoma and other sites around the country. The Seattle NMC is looking for new members; you don't have to speak Norse. Director: Alf Knudsen, firstname.lastname@example.org or WstrVi email@example.com.
Opus 7, a professional 24-voice choral group founded in 1992 by Loren Ponten, focuses on 19th-21st century works and is resident at St. James Cathedral (206-782-2899, www.opus7.org).
Oratorio Northwest, a new auditioned Eastside community chorus led by Robert Bigley, performs major sacred works (e.g. "Messiah") with orchestra (www.onorthwest.org).
Phinney Neighborhood Cho-
rus, a friendly amateur mixed chorus led by Maggie McClellan, sings community music from around the world (www.phinneychorus.org).
Rain City Women's Chorus, a non-auditioned Wedgwood-area 24-year-old choir promising "fun and friendship" as well as quality music, is led by Jo-Ann Christen (206-282-5471).
Rainier Chorale, based in Kent with 75 voices, is a community chorus with "low-key" auditions (tenors/basses especially needed); Ron Bayer directs. (www.rainierchorale.org, 206-835-8888).
Seattle Bach Choir, founded in 1984, is a 32-member auditioned chorus that focuses on the Baroque but also performs other composers. Gregory Vancil is the director; 206-324-4828, www.seattlebachchoir.org.
Seattle Chamber Singers, a 55-voice auditioned professional-level chorus founded by George Shangrow, is affiliated with Orchestra Seattle in repertoire ranging from Bach to world premieres. More basses are sought, but there are opportunities in all categories (206-682-5208, www.osscs.org)
Seattle Choral Company, led since 1982 by founding director Fred Coleman, is a large auditioned chorus of high standard that performs a major choral/orchestral repertoire, as well as collaborations with Pacific Northwest Ballet (www.seattlechoralcompany.org, 206-365-8765).
Seattle Labor Chorus, a 50-member group, is dedicated to the labor, social justice and peace movements. Contact phone: 206-841-4650.
Seattle Lesbian and Gay Chorus is now in its 17th season, with Scott Farrell directing the approximately 85 singers in a wide range of concert activity that "celebrates and affirms all genders and sexualities." Auditions are "brief and low-stress." (www.slgc.org, 206-860-SLGC).
Seattle Men's Chorus, with 273 members, is the largest community chorus in North America and the world's largest gay men's chorus. Under director Dennis Coleman, the SMC has a national reputation for excellence. 206-323-0750, www.flyinghouse.org.
Seattle Pro Musica, internationally respected for its recordings and concerts under the leadership of Karen P. Thomas, is a chorus of about 60 members of professional caliber (206-781-2766, www.seattlepromusica.org).
Seattle Symphony Chorale, founded in 1953, is an auditioned chorus of high standard affiliated with the Seattle Symphony; the chorale's director is George Fiore (206-215-4728, www.seattlesymphony.org/symphony/meet/chorale/).
Seattle Welsh Choir, also called "Côr Cymraeg," was founded in 1982 and is a mixed choir (SATB) that sings traditional and contemporary music in the Welsh language. (www.scn.org/people/welsh/corcymrg.html).
Seattle Women's Chorus, the new 150-member sister group of the Seattle Men's Chorus, is also led by Dennis Coleman and is rapidly developing a reputation for excellence (www.flyinghouse.org/swc).
Seattle Glee Clubs, an umbrella group with several different choruses for non-auditioned singers, offers many opportunities for singers (206-260-7393, www.seattlegleeclubs.org, or email firstname.lastname@example.org).
Seirm (Scottish Gaelic Choir), an award-winning 18-member mixed chorus open to all (it's not necessary to speak Gaelic), and directed by Seumas Gagne, was founded in 1996 and now performs staged music dramas with instrumentalists. (www.slighe.com, 206-297-8398).
Sno-King Community Chorale, based at Edmonds Community College, is led by veteran Frank DiMiero in music from pops to classical, and is open to all. (425-778-0573, email@example.com, www.sno-kingchorale.org).
Svea Male Chorus, a venerable 101-year-old institution formed to preserve Swedish music, performs regularly at the Swedish Cultural Center and other venues (firstname.lastname@example.org, 206-909-8723). You don't have to speak Swedish or audition.
Swedish Women's Chorus, Svea Male Chorus' 55-year-old sister group, is led by Florence Mesler; (email@example.com, 206-283-1090). No Swedish or audition necessary.
Total Experience Gospel Choir, founded by Patrinell Wright in 1973 as a gospel music class in Franklin High School, now is an award-winning African-American-oriented chorus known worldwide. firstname.lastname@example.org, 206-322-7904, www.totalexperience.org.
Tudor Choir, a professional ensemble with 12 core members and director Doug Fullington, performs mostly Renaissance polyphony but also early American and contemporary (www.tudorchoir.org, 206-323-9415).
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