Chorus of Westerly 2016

About the Chorus of Westerly

Nl CHORUS-500111807-2Independent choral ensembles in the United States are not rare. Indeed, according to Chorus America, there are 12,000 of these organizations nationwide and more than 42 million Americans singing in some type of chorus, including several thousand Rhode Islanders. In this cluttered landscape, it is hard for a chorus to stand out. It is also hard to see a choral ensemble’s lasting impact on its community. However, the Chorus of Westerly is unique.

Since 1959, the Chorus of Westerly (a not-for-profit performing arts organization) has offered New England music and arts programming of the very highest level of quality and excellence. In its 54 years, the Chorus has presented more than 550 performances to over 1.6 million people. The Chorus has performed over 90 major choral works always with fully professional orchestras and soloists, presented 12 major American premieres; toured internationally three times, singing in such venues as Westminster Abbey and St. Peter’s Basilica, and received countless awards and recognition for its work. It has established regional traditions including Summer Pops, an event that annually attracts 25,000 people, and A Celebration of Twelfth Night, an event with over 350 performers annually. It has changed the lives of countless generations of New England residents. Over 2,500 area residents have been singing members of the Chorus, and 1,500 of them sang as children. the Chorus has purchased, restored, and expanded its own performance venue, the historic George Kent Performance Hall, and is now one of only two independent American choral organizations to own its own performance venue.

The Chorus membership is one of the reasons the organization is so special. It is presently the only independent choral organization in the United States that combines adults and children in all performances throughout the entire concert season. What this means is that child members sing every concert of the season regardless to the programmed work’s length, size, or difficulty. Children are not called in just for certain concerts. They are members of equal rank with the adults and are held to the very same high standards. To keep up, the children must rehearse rigorously twice a week and audition prior to each performance to make sure they are prepared. This program has allowed over 1,500 children, at very young ages, to have the opportunity to sing the great works of Verdi, Bach, and Beethoven the “way it should be sang”, with full professional orchestras, soloists, and in front of educated and enthusiastic crowds. The opportunity to have this artistic experience is, for a child in a small town USA, beyond rare.

The Chorus of Westerly Board of Directors

President - Dan Van Winkle
Vice President - Michael Freitas
Vice President - Ann B.C. Kaschuluk
Recording Secretary - Aimee Blanchette
Corresponding Secretary - Olive Tamm
Treasurer - Katherine Hoxsie

Board Members
Benjamin Baldwin
Shaina Burrows

Caswell Cooke, Jr.
William Croasdale
Deborah Dunham, immediate past president
Eric Dunham
James Fagan

Joyce Fingerut
Brenda Greene
Andrew Howell, music director
Eugene Kincaid
Janet Kitchen
Maura Laudone
Peter Lewiss
Andrew J. Lidestri
Lora MacLaughlin
Susan Maguire
Belinda Maltz
William Meyer
John Mottinger
Austin Murphy
William Meyer
David Prigmore
Randy Roorbach
Rosemarie Russo
Ryan A. Saunders, executive director
Dan Spano
Nora Spens
George Sylvestre
John S. Wilks

While the Chorus membership is made up of volunteer singers, the professional orientation of the Chorus is apparent in each and every event. The vast majority of the adult singers have received some professional voice training. The children of the Chorus spend extra time before the season at a special choir camp learning theory, vocal technique, and other choral exercises to better train them for the year ahead.  For concerts with works that require soloists, professional vocal artists are hired and brought in to perform. These soloists are highly respected national and international artists and often work with our singers during their weekend performance stays. The orchestra that works with the chorus for each major concert is a fully professional group made up of some of the best musicians from Rhode Island and Massachusetts. The orchestra size for a particular concert is not budget-driven but rather score-driven. This means that if the score or the maestro calls for 45 musicians, the Chorus hires that number of professionals.This helps ensure the authentic music experience for the performers and audience. It is the objective of the Chorus to perform great works of music as one would hear them in the great American concert halls of Boston, New York, or San Francisco. 

For some of the Chorus’s events that are not typical symphonic concerts, such as the theatrical A Celebration of Twelfth Night, the Chorus brings in professional theater directors, choreographers, performers, lighting technicians and stage crew, the majority of whom are from Rhode Island or Connecticut, to work with the many volunteer performers and production assistants to present the shows as professionally as possible. For Summer Pops, the Chorus engages professional sound and light companies (Capron of Boston), firework professionals (Grucci), and other special event professionals to create the best possible community event.

Over the past season, in an effort to broaden its arts offerings and bring in new audiences, the Chorus has launched its Collegiate Concert Series and its Family Event Series to engage new and younger audience members with the performing arts through high quality, but accessible, programming. The Whiffenpoofs of Yale began the Collegiate Series in February 2011 with a sold-out performance. The Dartmouth Aires came to the hall in February 2012 fresh off their finalist appearance on NBC's The Sing-off. The Family Events include such popular activites as Chorus Singathon, Oktoberfest, St. Patrick's Day, and Quirk vs. Chicoria. It is the hope that these new events introduce the arts to a new and wider audience while still being at the same level of excellence and quality as other Chorus programs. In 2013, the Chorus will launch the Kent Hall Master Artists Series with an inaugural concert featuring The King's Singers.

The Chorus of Westerly has been celebrated in many publications and through many awards and honors given to the Chorus or George Kent. In 2008, the Boston Globe declared A Celebration of Twelfth Night one of the world’s best Twelfth Night celebrations (ranking it just behind events in London and New York). Awards received by the Chorus and Kent over the last twenty years include: The Governor’s Arts Award, The Jabez Gorham Business Award, the Tourism Achivement Award, Choral Arts New England’s Lifetime Achievement Award, History Maker Award, Encore Award, and recently Kent’s Pell Award from the State of Rhode Island.

More facts about the Chorus of Westerly
- The current music director of The Chorus of Westerly is Andrew Howell, a former Chorus child singer and student of retired director George Kent, who began his tenure in July 2012.
- The Chorus of Westerly was founded in 1959 by George Kent who served as music director through June 2012.
- The Chorus of Westerly was founded in order to give both children and adults the opportunity to, together, sing and perform the great choral works of the past eight centuries in a professional setting.
- The Chorus of Westerly currently has just over 200 singing members. 84 of these 200 are children ages 8 to 18.
- The Chorus of Westerly is one of only a few choral organizations in the United States to own its own facility.
- The Chorus of Westerly has an ambitious year-round season. Classical concerts are offered each November, March and May with professional orchestra and soloists or a small chamber ensemble. During the holiday season, the Chorus presents a series of Christmas Pops performances with orchestra, and seven presentations (just after Christmas) of A Celebration of Twelfth Night. This presentation is a musical and theatrical extravaganza (originally inspired by Revels) that features the Chorus, a small orchestra, and the talents of nearly 300 other community performers and volunteers. In June, the Chorus offers Summer Pops in Westerly’s 18-acre Wilcox Park to audiences of 25,000 and more annually.
- The Chorus has hosted Summer Choral Workshops at Camp Ogontz in New Hampshire, every summer since 1990. The workshops have been led by Sir David Willcocks, Richard Marlow, Herbert Bock, James Litton, and, most recently, David Hill of the London Bach Choir and BBC Singers. 
- The Chorus runs its own week-long summer camp program for its children and teenagers each August to prepare them for the season ahead and to teach them music fundamentals.
-  Over its 54 seasons, the Chorus has brought to Westerly many of the greatest choral works ever written, from Bach’s B Minor Mass to Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast, receiving critical acclaim and attention in both the regional media and in national publications such as the New York Times and Yankee Magazine.
- The Chorus has performed seven U.S. premieres of British choral works and has undertaken three large-scale concert tours abroad, twice to Great Britain and once to Italy. As part of these tours, the Chorus performed at King’s College Chapel, Westminster Abbey, Canterbury Cathedral, Saint Mark’s Basilica in Venice, Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, and performed the Verdi Requiem for the prestigious closing concert of the 1987 Spoleto Festival of Two Worlds.

George E. Kent Performance Hall
George Kent Performance Hall
Although the Chorus has performed in various locations throughout New England and toured internationally, its home is in Westerly. Since 1969, the Chorus has rehearsed and performed in what is now the George Kent Performance Hall, and was formerly the Westerly Immaculate Conception Church, and later the Westerly Center for the Arts. When the Center for the Arts organization ceased to exist in 1991, the Chorus purchased the historic building. The building with its main nave/hall, is renowned for its exceptional acoustics, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Chorus completed an extensive renovation, restoration, and expansion of the building, thanks to the support of the community through a capital campaign, and the facility was rededicated as the George Kent Performance Hall in September, 2005.

Music Directors of The Chorus of Westerly
George Kent (founder) – September 1959 to June 2012
Andrew Howell – July 2012 to present