Janesville, WI – December 2013 –
Since 1881, classical music aficionados have enjoyed the beautiful voices of the Choral Union in Rock County. Choral Union commemorates its 132nd anniversary this year with two performances of “Hodie (This Day)” by Ralph Vaughan Williams. 2013 marks another Choral Union milestone – Conductor Richard Severing celebrates his 20th season at the helm of the Choral Union.
Concerts will take place at 7:00 p. m. on Saturday, December 7, 2013, and again at 2:00p.m. on Sunday, December 8, 2013, at Cargill United Methodist Church, 2000 Wesley Avenue, Janesville.
As the headliner for this year’s concert season, “Hodie (This Day)” by Ralph Vaughan Williams is described by Conductor Richard Severing as a “great masterpiece retelling of the Christmas story with exciting choral and orchestral numbers along with beautiful, touching solos.” Soloists include Marie Severing (soprano), Brian Leeper (baritone), and Alex Gmeinder (tenor). The 100-plus member chorus and orchestra will be complemented by a choir of talented local children singing the narration of the story.
It was six years ago that Choral Union planned to perform this work, but a major winter storm prompted the first ever cancellation of a Choral Union concert. The last time Choral Union presented “Hodie (This Day)” goes back 41 years – to 1972. We think you will agree that it was worth the wait!
The Ralph Vaughan Williams musical program will open with an orchestral selection “Rhosymedre,” a hymn tune arrangement, and continues with Williams’ “Five Mystical Songs” for baritone, chorus, and orchestra. Tickets are $10.00 and may be purchased at the door on both performance days, in advance by calling (608) 741-5074, or from Choral Union members. Credit cards are not accepted.
About Choral Union:
Choral Union has never had auditions, and anyone who loves music and loves to sing has always been welcome. Singers who have years of training stand next to those who just love to sing, some who cannot even read music.
In 1881, Milton Choral Union gave its first performance, singing a variety of selections under the direction of Professor N. W. Williams of the Milton College of Music. The concert was a great success, and a tradition was born.
Over the next 30 years, Choral Union continued to give concerts, although not always annually. One of the last performances during these early years was Haydn’s Creation conducted by Dr. J. M. Stillman of the School of Music in 1903.
The singing society was revived in 1911 by Professor A. E. Whitford who gathered a group of college students and community members for a public performance that December. The performance was heralded as “the most striking musical production ever given here by local talent.”
Whitford went on to become President of Milton College, giving up the choir to Professor L. H. Stringer in 1917. The Choral Union’s purpose under Stringer’s direction was to present the great oratorios to the Music School students so that in four year’s time a student would sing “Messiah”, “Elijah”, Mendelssohn’s “Hymn of Praise”, and one other great work. Over the next thirty years Professor Stringer directed a Choral Union that grew in size, confidence, musical ability, and reputation.
Bernie Westlund, a young student from Wittenberg, Wisconsin, appeared on the scene in 1936 and began playing in the orchestra that year. Westlund was the orchestra leader the next year, and in 1946, became the new director of the Choral Union. Under his leadership, the group continued to grow in stature and ability until it became recognized as one of the finest oratorio societies in the Midwest, if not the nation.
Choral Union has made history by performing a number of “firsts” including the Midwest premiere of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion (1953), Boatright’s Canticle of the Sun, Vaughan-Williams’ Hodie, and Finzi’s Intimations of Immorality as well as several state premieres.
In 1976, Bernie Westlund gave his farewell performance after 30 years as Choral
Union director. At that time Westlund commented, “For the singers, the enjoyment is in rehearsing and learning the meaning of the music beyond the notes on the page. The performance is their joyful gift to the audience.”
Professor Thomas Sanborn became the new director in 1977, having been with the Choral Union as accompanist for 20 years. In 1993, Richard Severing took over the reins as director after Sanborn’s untimely death before the season started.
It has been said that the greatness of Choral Union comes from the tremendous bond and fellowship between the singers themselves, and with the director, as they work to perform some of the greatest choral music ever written. The emotional highs of singing together are what bring members back year after year. When singing together, we become more than who we are alone. Great music is created, and we are not the same people as we were when we started to rehearse.
“Choral Union took hold of me emotionally from the very first time I participated,” states Director Richard Severing. Severing goes on to say, “We perform high quality music at a high level of expertise. We continue to expand and discover music that is new to us. We gather together as a community and share both music and ourselves. Each day I grow in sensitivity as a human being because of working with Choral Union.”
Severing believes strongly in the chorus and its role in the community. “I believe in music as a force that brings people together,” Severing commented in a Janesville Gazette feature story in December, 2011. He continued, “I also think
it’s important that communities are brought together. I guess both things happen to be the same goal.” Janesville Gazette Reporter Ann Fiore summed up the “magic” of Choral Union in December, 2011, as follows: Each year, the challenge is the same — Take a mix of 100+ experienced and novice singers, give them demanding pieces of choral music, and teach them how to sing. And each year, the group produces a work of art, something greater than the sum of its parts.