By Lisa Collins-Haynes | Photos by Delia Engstrom
The power of their voices draws you in. To then learn that their age range is as diverse as their vocal range is just part of what takes the Manassas Chorale to the next level. The youngest members are in high school, and the most mature members are well past retirement age. Clearly the age gap doesn’t interfere with their ability to harmonize, produce beautiful music and sell out their home, the Hylton Performing Arts Center. This is the chorale’s seventh year as a Resident Arts Partner at the Hylton.
What began as a 25-member singing group in 1994 has quadrupled in size under the musical directorship of Becky Verner, who has been with the chorale since 1997. Verner explains that many of the singers have backgrounds with their high school or college choirs and several sing in their church choirs. The members of the chorale enjoy the opportunity to sing not only religious music, but also Broadway show tunes, classical and patriotic melodies and popular tunes, which offers a nice variety to keep the singers engaged. One recent concert featured a love songs theme, and in 2015 they hosted a Disney-themed concert that was popular with families.
Another element that adds to their distinctive sound is the instrumentalists that help pull it all together during performances. At most concerts, 20 orchestra members are brought in to accompany the chorale, including their accompanist, Kristina Schenck.
The Manassas Chorale performs four major concerts per year– in March, May, October and December–which includes their “Concerts with a Cause.” During these special performances, both members of the chorale and the audience are asked to bring donations for pre-selected nonprofit and charitable organizations in the Prince William area.
The chorale is honored to perform at such events as the annual Candlelight Concert Series at Bruton Parish Episcopal Church in the heart of historic Williamsburg, Virginia. This year marked the 15th anniversary of this performance. Recently, the chorale traveled internationally to Ireland, Wales and England to sing in those countries’ world-famous cathedrals.
Those interested in joining the Manassas Chorale can do so through an audition process held four times a year. Prospective singers must attend an open rehearsal and prepare a piece for the membership committee. The next chances to audition will be January 3 and March 21. According to Verner, about four out of five people who audition become members. Singers can also participate in Voices United in March. This is a short-term commitment where singers participate in a weekend workshop with a nationally known musician and then perform in the concert as the “Voices United Workshop Choir” along with the Manassas Chorale. Registration opens at the end of January for this event.
Member Ken Duck of Gainesville started as a loyal concert attendee. His affinity for the performances led him to write the most glowing and praise-filled emails, Verner recalled. Once Duck retired, he focused on his bucket list. He quickly auditioned and became a member of the chorale that he so greatly admires. He said, “Each concert is the result of a lot of hard work by many people and clearly is a labor of love by all involved.”
Verner said that each member of the chorale has an amazingly wonderful spirit, with a heart for their singing and for the community. She noted that while they give to the community through their singing, chorale members also receive. These intangible gifts come from the skills they gain and improve upon and the camaraderie that is built in to the group. In short, she is justifiably proud of the chorale members and thoroughly enjoys being their director. And the members aren’t the only ones that rave about the chorale. “We have attended for years and have been delighted with their professionalism and enthusiasm,” said longtime supporter Shirley Rice of Manassas. “Their repertoire is extensive, and Becky Verner’s direction is superb. You can expend a lot more money and effort going into D.C., but you won’t find better entertainment than our local Manassas Chorale!”
Prince William Potomac District Supervisor Maureen Caddigan, and many of her family and friends, are also regular concertgoers. She boasts that she never misses a performance. “We love it, and we also encourage others to attend!” Caddigan said. This and other statements of Manassas Chorale supporters are a testament to the perfectly executed performances that they deliver. Even better, this all takes place in a state-of-the-art facility with reasonably priced tickets, making it an evening the entire family can enjoy together.
Visit manassaschorale.org to learn more about the group, concert schedules and auditions.
Lisa Collins-Haynes (email@example.com) is married and the mother of one daughter. She is currently working as a freelance entertainment and travel writer and you can follow her travels at octsblogger.wordpress.com.