Community chorus relishes time in Carnegie Hall spotlight

Local residents reflect on rare opportunity in Big Apple

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Members of the Williamson County Community Chorus recently had the chance of a lifetime for anyone in the entertainment business.

The group performed live at Carnegie Hall on Sunday evening. The most amazing part is the chorus has been in existence only since the summer of 2017 and has performed five only concerts.

“We started with about 50 singers and have grown to 90,” said Linda Bolding, choral director. “Members come from all over the community and range in age from 14 to about 80.”

For several years a group had been investigating the possible interest in a community choral group. When research showed the interest existed, Ellen Bourne and Mary Hill took the helm and “got the wheel rolling,” Bolding said. Since the Williamson County Parks and Recreation Department already supported the Williamson County Community Band, the two approached officials about a community chorus.

“They said go for it,” Bolding said.

At the time, Bolding had been a county resident for only a couple of months. 

“A friend suggested me to them and Laurie put out an all call for singers,” she said.

Before moving here to be closer to her daughter, Bolding had been a professional choral conductor who directed the Austin City Chorus. In 1985, she started the Round Rock (Texas) Community Chorus and was the director of choral activities in her church. She also taught music at Round Rock High School and at the University of Texas in Austin.

“Directing choral groups has always been a huge part of my life,” she said.

Performing at Carnegie Hall was never on Bolding’s radar of things to do, but it was a far-off dream she never knew she had until December 2018, when she received a call from Laurie Kamunen, program director with the Parks and Rec Department. Someone in programming at Carnegie Hall saw a video of the chorus on YouTube and was quite impressed. They were invited to perform at Carnegie Hall on Sunday.

“(Laurie) was really excited,” Bolding said, adding she was, too. “I told her I would check with the chorus. I wanted them to know about what a wonderful honor this was. They were more than excited and they wanted to go.” 

The YouTube video was made by the husband of one of the singers. He recorded a concert the chorus performed using the music of modern English composer John Rutter and posted it online so members of the chorus could hear how they sound.

“What they were looking for was choral groups that could sing John Rutter’s works well,” Bolding said. “They were looking for something specific and we happened to do it well.”

After practicing John Rutter’s requiem, the English version of the Latin requiem with the addition of Psalms and biblical verses for more than a year, the day came for 67 very excited members of the Williamson County Community Chorus to head for New York City.

“Everyone was invited but some had obligations at home, jobs or health issues that prevented them from going,” Bolding said.

In New York, the local chorus members met the several other choruses with whom they would be joining to create a group of about 250 singers performing together. The choral groups from six other states became one under the direction of conductor Jonathan Griffith.

Griffith is the co-founder, artistic director and principal conductor of Distinguished Concerts International New York, an organization that provides concert musical choral singers and orchestras the opportunity to perform “at prestigious venues across the United States, including Carnegie Hall.”

“We had two big four-hour rehearsals on Friday and Saturday,” Bolding said. “It was all very exciting. The wonderful thing about choral music is it pulls people together quickly. People who make music together can never be enemies. Singing together provides a connection. I’m very proud of them.”

During their down time, choral members with family members or close friends who also came along used the time to see a Broadway show, enjoy fine and casual New York City dining and toured Carnegie Hall, by itself an extraordinary experience. Another thrill was seeing the Williamson County Community Chorus name on the show panel outside Carnegie Hall.

The Sunday evening concert began with an orchestral performance. After intermission, the choral singers took the stage.

“It was so very exciting,” Bolding said.

As we went into the deep of the requiem, the conductor pulled something out of us that was incredible, said Patty Trosclair, who performed at Carnegie Hall five years ago with the San Francisco Bay Chorus.

“At the resurrection of life (the conductor) said because it was good news, it was OK to be happy, even smile,” Trosclair said. “At the end of the performance, we received a standing ovation that lasted more than a minute. People were clapping, applauding and cheering. It was so awesome, so wonderful, a twice-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Susan Swanson Moore said the experience was “beyond amazing.”

“Carnegie Hall was pretty surreal,” she added. “The acoustics were fabulous and the conductor was fantastic. The whole experience was amazing and surreal.”

While in Carnegie Hall, Moore saw a poster dated Feb. 16, 1957, with Count Basie and Sarah Vaughan listed as the performers that night.

“We were performing on the same stage as Count Basie and Sarah Vaughan on the same day 63 years later,” Moore said. “That was surreal! And the tickets were only $4 and some change.”

After the concert the entire chorus was treated to a performance dinner and reception at Rosie O’Grady’s at the Manhattan Club.

“It was just all so very incredible,” Bolding said.

The Williamson County Community Chorus holds its weekly Tuesday practices at the Williamson County Enrichment Center except on the second Tuesday of the month, when it performs in the sanctuary of Historic First Presbyterian Church in Franklin.

New members are always welcome to audition. For more information, contact Kamunen at 615-790-5719, ext. 2018, or laurie.kamunen@williamsoncounty-tn.gov.

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