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Chorale to celebrate 50 years of music

Claremont Chorale has a lot to celebrate these days. The all-volunteer community choir is beginning its 50th season and its elder statesman is being feted for an amazing run of 49 years with the group. Additionally, Greg Norton, it’s longtime creative director, is stepping down next spring.
To celebrate the milestones, the Chorale is throwing itself a fundraising party. The choir’s 50th anniversary dinner and silent auction, which is open to the public, will take place Saturday, October 14 from 5 to 8:30 p.m. at Taylor Hall, 1775 N. Indian Hill Blvd., Claremont.

The event will include a buffet dinner, a cash bar, a host of recordings of notable past performances, a commemorative program, and a sing-along for seasoned vocalists and amateurs alike.

The apex of the evening will be 87-year-old Stuart Oskamp sharing his unique narrative to a presentation of photos from the Chorale’s beginnings as the Lincoln Twenty in 1968 through today. Mr. Oskamp has been with the Chorale since 1969.

Tickets are $60 and are available at claremontchorale.org through October 4.

“I was hoping that I’d be able to sing for 50 years,” Mr. Oskamp said. “If my voice holds out I’ll keep on.”

The group boasts several other singers who have been with choir for more than 30 years. What is it that keeps all these musicians coming back?

“I can’t really explain it,” said Suzanne Snijder van Wissenkerke, who was recently elected president of the Chorale’s board of directors.But, singing in a choir turns out to be a super wonderful health booster. And, of course another big factor would be leadership from the director.”

That would be Greg Norton, who will be leaving at the end of the 2017-18 season after 25 years as the Chorale’s artistic director. His last day on the job will be May 19, 2018 at the choir’s 50th anniversary celebration concert. He’s on board as a consultant for the job search, which has just begun. Candidates will be interviewed in the first part of next year, and the new director’s debut will take place next summer, he said.

The Chorale is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and survives through tax-deductible donations and volunteerism. The pianist and the director draw a salary, but the rest of the people who make the group go are unpaid. Ticket sales cover less than half of overall expenses.

“A group like this, running on a shoestring budget, with anything like that, that it can find a way to survive for fifty years is kind of exciting,” Mr. Norton said. “I’m proud of them from that standpoint.”

There’s a certain modest dignity in what the Claremont Chorale does. It’s true that Los Angeles—with its Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and Walt Disney Concert Hall, among others—is just a 50-minute drive away (if the Traffic Gods are smiling). And those professional musicians, with their tuxedoes and sparkling, state-of-the-art venues, they have their allure. But the Claremont Chorale offers something closer, both in proximity and in immediacy.

“A community choir is different,” Mr. Norton said. “It’s your own friends and neighbors who are up there. And that’s the way most music has been performed through history: The people from the neighborhood and the community figuring out how to do it for each other. So, I think there is some gratification in that for the singers. I think that’s what keeps them coming back.”

Mr. Oskamp agreed. “Singing has been my main avocation,” He said. “Every week I enjoy a change of pace at Monday rehearsal.”

Those Monday night rehearsals have been a constant for some many years, for so many local singers. “It becomes one of the things they do every week,” Mr. Norton said. “It’s one of their activities in life. Some people bowl, some people have card games. For the choir, this is the thing they do on Monday nights.”

Mr. Norton, while appreciative of the support he’s received over the years, is still hopeful that the Chorale’s harmonies can reach new ears. One of his struggles has always been to somehow transfer his dedicated but humble audience’s enthusiasm to the larger community. “It’s a musical resource for the people who live in Claremont to be served as far as hearing music and being exposed to art in a very local and nearby way.”

After the work of the anniversary fundraiser dinner is done, Ms. Snijder has her sights set on outreach. “There a lot of younger people who are interested in this kind of music, but it’s a matter of getting the music out there,” she said. “We’re continuing to work on more effective ways to reach out to the community through student populations, people that have recently left college, and that sort of thing.”

Claremont Chorale’s 50th Anniversary Dinner and Silent Auction is Saturday, October 14, 5 to 8:30 p.m. at Taylor Hall, 1775 N. Indian Hill Blvd., Claremont. Tickets are $60 and are available at claremontchorale.org through October 4.

 

The Chorale’s next performance is “Christmas With the Chorale” on December 2 at 7:30 p.m. and December 3 at 3 p.m. at Claremont United Church of Christ, 233 Harrison Ave.

—Mick Rhodes

mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com

 

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