About the Chorus of Westerly
Andrew Howell, The Marion & Bill Palm Music Director
Founding Music Director
George Kent, Tenure: September 1959 to June 2012
Music Director, emeritus
Our Mission Statement
The Chorus of Westerly harnesses the power of music to transform lives and nourish the soul of the community.
The Chorus of Westerly
Independent 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 61 years, the Chorus has presented nearly 700 performances to over 1.6 million people. The Chorus has performed over 90 major choral works always with fully professional orchestras and soloists, presented 14 major American premieres; toured internationally five times, singing in such venues as Smetana Hall, Westminster Abbey and St. Peter’s Basilica, and received countless awards and recognition for its work. It has established regional traditions such as Summer Pops, an event that annually attracts 25,000 people. 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 three 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 enthusiastic crowds. The opportunity to have this artistic experience is, for a child in a small town USA, beyond rare.
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, 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, firework professionals (Grucci), and other special event professionals to create the best possible community event.
Over recent seasons, 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. Performance groups have included The Whiffenpoofs, Dartmouth Aires, and the world famous Harvard Gles Club. 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 launched the Kent Hall Master Artists Series with an inaugural concert featuring The King's Singers. Since that time, the Chorus has welcomed to Kent Hall important choral group such as Chanticleer, the Lorelei Ensemble, Stile Antico, Tenet, Rockapella, the Young Women's Chorus of San Francisco, and the Maryland State Boychoir.
The Chorus of Westerly has been celebrated in many publications and through many awards and honors given to the Chorus or George Kent. 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 around 200 singing members at any given time. Roughly half of this number are usually children ages 8 to 18.
- The Chorus of Westerly is one of only a three 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. In June, the Chorus offers Summer Pops in Westerly’s 18-acre Wilcox Park to audiences of 25,000 and more annually.
- 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 63 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 14 U.S. premieres of British choral works and has undertaken five 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, Smetana Hall in Prague, Stephansdom in Vienna, and the Matthias Coronation Church in Budapest. The Chorus also performed the Dvorak Requiem for the prestigious closing concert of the 1987 Spoleto Festival of Two Worlds.
- The Chorus most recently toured Central Europe in July 2014 and Germany in July 2017. A France tour is currently in the planning phases for July 2023.
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. In the mid-2000s, 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. Work continues to this day on the hall, and as of 2020 the Chorus has completed major projects including replacing its slate roof, its HVAC system, and the original nave's exterior. The project of keeping Kent Hall alive is an active and exciting one.
THE CHORUS OF WESTERLY
Current singing membership: 196
(100 child/teen singers, 96 adult singers)
Age of oldest singing member: 84
Age of youngest singing member: 7
Chorus was founded in: 1959 by George Kent
First concert with George Kent:
Handel's Dettingen Te Deum in 1959
First concert with Andrew Howell:
Britten's Saint Nicolas in 2012
Official Names of the Chorus:
1959 - Christ Church Concert Choir
1961 - The Community Chorus (when it was officially established with the State of RI in October 1961)
In between - Over time it Evolved to The Community Chorus of Westerly
1986 - The Chorus of Westerly (official name change with the State of RI)
Countries the Chorus has perfomed in:
United States, England (three times), Scotland, Wales, Italy, Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, Germany.
States the Chorus has performed in:
Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York
Anyone over the age of 8 (or almost age 8) may audition for the Chorus of Westerly.
Mission: The Chorus of Westerly harnesses the power of music to transform lives and nourish the soul of the community.
Core Commitments of The Chorus of Westerly
As a both a performing arts organization and the owners of a performing arts center (the George Kent Performance Hall), the Chorus of Westerly’s primary reasons for existence are to perform, present, and offer great musical performances and educational programs to the greater Westerly community, Rhode Island, and southeastern Connecticut.
We are also charged with preserving, maintaining, protecting, and sharing the historic George Kent Performance Hall. Kent Hall, one of the finest acoustical spaces for choral and orchestral music in New England, is as much the community’s home as it is ours. We are committed to Kent Hall’s use as a cultural center both now and in the future.
Related to our mission and purpose, our current organizational core commitments:
1. To perform and offer to our community, with artistic integrity, both the major classic works of the choral literature and new or lesser-known pieces of merit.
2. To provide educational opportunities in music to children and adults of diverse backgrounds that are comprehensive, useful, and life changing.
3. To grow as an important cultural organization of New England, and to serve as a visible leader in both the Rhode Island and New England cultural communities.
4. To continue to preserve, maintain, and share with our community the historic George Kent Performance Hall and ensure it remains a treasured, useful, and important cultural home for generations of residents and artists to come.
5. To be a cultural organization that operates efficiently, honestly, transparently, and proactively. To operate fiscally responsibly and to be governed and directed effectively. To ensure the public’s trust and to operate with the utmost integrity.
Our Strategic Ambitions
With our core commitments in mind, and for the Chorus to realize its potential over the next several years, we have created five strategic ambitions that will dictate our organization’s course over the next several seasons. The ambitions fall under the categories of: Artistic Excellence and Recognition, Education, Community, Kent Hall, and Capacity.
1. Artistic Excellence and Recognition
We strive to achieve a statewide, regional, and national recognition as one of the country’s leading community based choral organizations with a volunteer singing core considered on par with any professional US choral organization. We aim to be celebrated for excellence in seasonal performance, programming, and innovation, and for performance relationships with top-notch music professionals.
We will make every effort to expand the existing Chorus education programs so that they serve more residents across southern New England and are recognized for their scope and broad reaching offerings. We will develop one of the finest choral training programs for young singers in New England. We will develop skill building and useful music-training programs for existing singers of all ages, while also developing programs for non-singing members in the community to begin to or further engage them with music and the arts. We will develop programs that residents can participate in without regard to cost or expense. And, finally, we will partner with the local school districts to enhance a region wide arts education curriculum.
We aspire to firmly establish the Chorus as one of New England’s most important cultural organizations with both a membership and patron base that is inclusive, educated and engaged. We will make efforts to be recognized as a leader of the arts and cultural sector in Rhode Island and New England, and to take the lead in helping others within the sector sustain and grow. We will serve as a leader of the cultural sector of Westerly and Stonington, and be at the forefront of major economic growth plans for both communities using cultural activity as an economic stimulator. We aspire to be firmly recognized as one of New England’s cultural treasures.
4. George Kent Performance Hall
It is our goal to fully develop the George Kent Performance Hall as a major arts venue in the region. We will, as an organiztion, work together with other community partners to promote town-wide artistic growth and community economic development. We will make every effort to bring the facility into the 21st century through major repair, renovation, and proactive expansion work, and work to develop an endowment to support its operating cost for future years. We will explore every way to make Kent Hall an affordable, usable, and available resource for other regional arts organizations with limited resources.
We continue to develop an organizational structure that is a model of best practice in the not-for-profit sector and the performing arts world and have a thoughtful, proactive, flexible and committed leadership and board of directors. We will continue to develop a staffing structure of equally dedicated, passionate, and talented individuals with a size sufficient and capable to allow for program growth and organizational advancement.