Religions and Spirituality

Choristers Inspired and Inspiring

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Taken from the balcony at St. Peter's in 2010, the Harmonium Harmonizers look as good as they sound.
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The choristers in rehearsal, preparing for the big Christmas concert weekend.
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Down to the final rehearsals for the 2011 Christmas concerts, artistic director Anne Matlock works on every detail of the music.
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Harmonium Harmonizers in full performance mode singing at the American Guild of Organists convention held in July at Calvary Epsicopal Church in Summit, directed by Anne Matlack and accompanied by Mark Miller
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The opening number in the grandeur of St. Peter's where Harmonium oftem performs and where their concerts will be held this weekend, Dec. 10 and 11. The choristers provide real surround sound as they encircle the room, directed by Anne Matlack.
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Directing the Harmonium Chamber Singers in a concert in June is artistic director Anne Matlack.
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The mission of Harmonium Choral Society is to inspire and transform our community through music. We perform a diverse repertoire of choral music at a high artistic level, and we advance the choral arts through education, commissions, and community partnerships. Within the chorus, we create a challenging and enjoyable environment where excellence can flourish. –Mission statement on website of Harmonium Harmonizers.

If you love beautiful voices and challenging music, you’re in luck. The Harmonium Choral Society is singing two concerts this weekend, Dec. 10 and 11, at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Morristown.

The music of Conrad Susa will be featured in “Carols and Lullabies: Christmas in the Southwest,” as well as other carols and lullabies from Medieval to Yiddish and from Russian to Filipino. In addition to Susa, there will be a world premiere of Mayn Yingele by Rosenfeld, arranged by Gene Glickman who will attend Sunday’s performance. A crowd favorite will close the show: a fun and jazzy rendition of “Jingle Bells,” one of the most requested pieces of seasonal music performed by the group.

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Harmonium Choral Society, founded in 1979, is made up of nearly 100 singers and conducted by artistic director Anne Matlack, who is praised by the singers as meticulous and organized, but reasonable. The adjective meticulous brings to mind a cranky, demanding leader with no patience, but that does not describe Matlack, who is deeply admired and appreciated by her singers.

Singer Jack McCoy, actually one of the “real” McCoys whose family arrived in America sometime in the mid-17th century, is one of her fans. “She never over rehearses,” he said. “She knows what she wants and she knows how to get it.”

She doesn’t raise her voice, she doesn’t ridicule, and she’s fun. At the final rehearsal before the two big concerts, there was plenty of laughter, time for questions about specific passages, and what seemed to be an evening of enjoyment for everyone involved. Make no mistake: Matlack expects perfection and she gets it, but cranky just is not in her repertoire. Clearly she’s the right choice—she’s been the director for 20 years.

When asked about being stopped for errors that seem undetectable, Caitlyn Roper, who is only 20 but is a three-year member of the chorus and has a seat on the board, said, “When she stops us, we just think, ‘Oh, we did that again.’”

Ages of members of the chorus range from 14 to mid-80s. Ethan Lynch is 14 years old, but is already a trained singer who is considering a career in musical theater. He auditioned for Harmonium after hearing about it from his mother and her friends who loved the music. “I thought it was a great opportunity to enhance my own singing,” Lynch said. “Where else would I get a chance to sing in Chinese and Russian?”

The first exposure Lynch had to musical theater was at the tender age of five when his parents took him to see “Guys and Dolls” at Plays in the Park in Basking Ridge. “They thought they would take me home at intermission,” he recalls, but he was unwilling to leave and stayed through the whole performance. Though he doesn’t claim to have made a final decision about his future at that point, he fell in love with theater and his interest was piqued.

Roper, whose mother and father are also in the chorus, is the choir director for ages three to seven at Grace Episcopal Church in Madison. She joined the choir when she was 17, and said the impetus for her was the extremely challenging music, and the director. “What drew me was Dr. Anne,” she said. Matlack’s influence brings passion and excitement to the singers, Roper said, and, “You never get this variety of music, or music that’s this difficult.”

A veteran of choral singing, having started at eight years old, Roper said she found herself bored with doing the same music all the time. Singing for her was not fun if it was easy—it’s not just singing that matters, it’s learning.

Harmonium Choral Society is an organization that values education and fills in the gaps for many youngsters. “There are not enough arts in schools,” Roper said, “and when the economy gets bad, it’s the first thing that’s cut.”

The group received the Education Outreach Program Award in 2009 for their High School Student Choral Composition Contest. The mission of the contest is to encourage students in New Jersey to study composition; winners are showcased at the spring concert.

That’s only one of their many awards, which include:

1998

Outstanding Arts Organization (Arts Council of the Morris Area)—Performer at ACDA Eastern Convention, Providence RI

2000

Finalist, Chorus America ASCAP Programming Award

2003

Outstanding Arts Professional (Arts Council of the Morris Area)—Dr. Anne Matlack

Outstanding Arts Advocates (Arts Council of the Morris Area)—Penny and David Hoadley

Volunteers of Morris County Award—Randi Jermansen

2006

Volunteer Management Centers Award—David Copp

2007

Alternate, ACDA Eastern Division Convention

2009

Chorus America Education Outreach Program Award

2010

Performer at ACDA Eastern Convention, Philadelphia PA

Each spring, Harmonium offers a series of workshops, facilitated by professional choral clinicians, that provide a friendly, supportive environment for improving ear training, sight-singing and vocal production. The workshops are open to the public by advance registration. Teachers who attend one or more workshops receive credit, as the organization is a registered New Jersey Professional Development Provider.

"Carols and Lullabies," will be presented at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church on South Street at Miller Road in Morristown at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 10, and 3 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 11.  Featured on harp is Merynda Adams, Christopher Kenniff on guitar, and Joe Keefe on marimba. General admission tickets are $25 at the door, $20 for students and seniors. To order tickets, visit www.harmonium.org/paypal.shtml or send a mail order to Harmonium Choral Society, P.O. Box 1317, Morristown 07962-1317.  Large print or Braille programs will be made available if requested in advance. 

Funding for instrumentalists has been provided by the Frank & Lydia Bergen Foundation.  Additional funding has been made possible in part by grants from the Arts Council of the Morris Area through the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts.

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