The Tennessee Chamber Chorus will debut its first performance of “When Old Becomes New: Christmas Through the Ages,” at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on Monday at 7:30 p.m.
The choir is set to be the first professional vocal music ensemble in the area, said Dr. Cameron LaBarr, director and conductor of the Tennessee Chamber Chorus.
“We have several wonderful volunteer groups in this area, but currently not an organization made of professional, paid singers,” LaBarr said. “I’ve noticed such an appreciation for the arts in Cleveland; I would love for this to take off.”
The choir currently consists of 16 singers from a variety of locations and backgrounds — from recent Lee University alumni living in Cleveland to the director of choral activities within the department of music at West Virginia State University. LaBarr said the number could increase depending on the needs of a particular performance but that it will “stay small and intimate,” less than 24.
LaBarr is assistant professor of choral music at Lee University, and Dr. Loralee Songer, associate conductor of the Tennessee Chamber Chorus, is an assistant professor at Lee, teaching applied voice and conducting. Other Tennessee Chamber Chorus members have connections to Lee University as well, but LaBarr said the choir is independent from it.
“It’s an arts organization within the community,” he said. “We certainly have ties to Lee, but it’s from within the community.”
While many of the choir’s members live in Tennessee, many do not. Because of that, the Tennessee Chamber Chorus’ members practiced the music on their own before meeting to rehearse for the first time Friday evening. LaBarr said the choir is working with a “project choir model” where singers spend just a few days practicing together rather than practicing regularly for an entire season.
Founding choir members include Caitlin Hammon, Amy Maples, Rachel Cooke and Loralee Songer, sopranos; Susan LaBarr, Kaylee Gallagher, Lamprini Lindeman and Andrea Dismukes, altos; Dirk Johnson, Lee Rose, Chris Oglesby and Perry Mears, tenors; and David Tahere, John Moore, Aaron Murphy and Kevin Grice, bass.
LaBarr said the current lineup of singers was chosen because he knew their voices would suit the music well. However, the Tennessee Chamber Chorus may accept audition recordings as it adds to its ranks in the future
The group’s first performance will feature a diverse set of Christmas music in two halves. The first half of the performance will feature traditional advent and Christmas songs dating back to periods such the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The second half will feature more familiar music from the 20th and 21st centuries along with original compositions by Composer-in-Residence Susan LaBarr. One of the composer’s new songs will be sung in English, and the other will be in Huron, a Native American language that originated in the Northeast.
The choir will move throughout different parts of the sanctuary of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church during the performance to mimic the way each song was originally sung. Singing onstage with an audience in front of them was not always the way choirs performed, LaBarr said.
While the performance will be primarily focused on vocal music, an organist named Mary Beth Wickes will help close out the event.
Right now, the group plans to hold concerts twice a year — once in the Spring and once around Christmastime. However, future plans include holding more concerts during the year as well as traveling to other cities to perform, said LaBarr. For now, he said he hopes the event will spark the community’s interest in supporting a professional choir like the Tennessee Chamber Chorus.
“It always seems like there’s a yearning for further art when it is done well,” LaBarr said.
The choir organization is currently applying to gain the status of a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and is currently looking for donations to help the group as it gets its start.
Anyone interested in seeing the choir’s inaugural concert can purchase tickets on its website, TennesseeChamberChorus.org. Tickets are available for $15 for regular seating and $25 for premium seating and are “extremely limited.” For more information about the group, see the website or find the Tennessee Chamber Chorus page on Facebook.