Local Choral Leaders to Host Annual Conference

Cincinnati will soon welcome more than 500 community chorus leaders, singers, administrative staff and business and board members for the choral industry’s signature annual event.

click to enlarge May Festival Chorus
May Festival Chorus

Cincinnati will soon welcome more than 500 community chorus leaders, singers, administrative staff and business and board members for the choral industry’s signature annual event. Hosted by the May Festival, the 39th-annual Chorus America conference, which takes place June 15-18, will feature multiple panels and events focused on professional development and innovative idea sharing within the field.

Catherine Dehoney, CEO of the national organization, says Cincinnati is a logical landing spot for the group, which works to develop professional choral leaders and provide training opportunities.

“What’s been so amazing to me is how many leaders in our choral field actually have very strong roots in Cincinnati,” Dehoney says. “It’s been really interesting to me to hear from members of the board about how excited they are to come home to Cincinnati.”

Many of Cincinnati’s own choral leaders will speak over the course of the three-day conference, including KellyAnn Nelson, founder/artistic director of Young Professionals’ Choral Collective, and Steven Sunderman, executive director of host chorus the May Festival.

“The May Festival Chorus is thrilled to have been chosen to host the 2016 national Chorus America conference,” Sunderman says. “We look forward to showcasing to our colleagues across the country all that Cincinnati has to offer. We have a rich choral history and are excited to share it in person.”

The May Festival will perform “Elijah” by Mendelssohn under the direction of chorus director Robert Porco, and Vocal Arts Ensemble will bring Canticle, a recent world premiere, to a national audience.

Founded by leaders of professional choruses in 1977 with the intention of promoting the professional choral arts, Chorus America has expanded its mission to encompass the promotion of choral singing of nearly any kind. Dehoney notes that the group has evolved to be “the education and advocacy organization for independent choruses of all types, (and) also speak for the power and impact of communal singing.”

In a showcase of communal singing, Vocal Arts Ensemble artistic director Craig Hella Johnson will lead the first-ever Big Sing, which eliminates the austerity of a stage and makes the audience the chorus.

“It’s kind of flash mob-like,” Sunderman says. “It’s free, open to the public and everyone who likes to sing is invited to sing. We’re taking over the Carew Tower arcade on Saturday afternoon — probably one of the largest indoor transitory spaces in the city — and we’re making it a destination for people to sing.”

Communal singing and its associated health and social benefits have been the subject of many studies of late, but those benefits are nothing new to Chorus America. The organization will release at the conference the findings of its latest data dig: the Intrinsic Impact Audience Project.

Three Cincinnati organizations have been involved in the two-year research study: the May Festival, Cincinnati Boychoir and Vocal Arts Ensemble. Following the findings’ release, Chorus America will take time over the summer to develop tools and takeaways for member choruses to use in conjunction with the full findings of the report.

The conference itself will provide more immediate takeaways for attendees: The big focus this year is on audience engagement, in tandem with the study release. Audience engagement is one of Chorus America’s central strategic goals, Dehoney says, noting the importance of audience involvement and meaningful partnerships with community organizations.

Nelson, the leader of the Young People’s Choral Collective of Cincinnati, is familiar with those meaningful partnerships.

“Because we’ve been based in Over-the-Rhine, which is (undergoing) an urban renewal story,” she says, “we’ve been able to work with a lot of local businesses in a way that we would like to see be a part of everybody else’s story — we’re not just creating art, we’re creating art that is hopefully then creating an economic impact.”

The annual CHORUS AMERICA CONFERENCE will take place June 15-18 at various venues. For more information, visit chorusamerica.org.

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