Manassas Chorale: Shining Like Silver

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By Dan Verner

Nearly 25 years ago, the Manassas Community Chorale, under the leadership of the Rev. Dr. John (Jack) Martin and accompanied by Jill Tomlinson on the piano, numbered about 25 singers and held their concerts in a local church.

The choral group (now called the Manassas Chorale) currently fills the stage of the 1,100-seat Merchant Hall in the Hylton Performing Arts Center accompanied by a 20-piece orchestra of local music teachers and other professional musicians. Chorale President and bass Mark Dodge said, “The Chorale’s slogan,
‘A Measure of Excellence,’ underlines the special experience of working hard on a piece of music and performing it well for an audience.” As members of the 2017 Outstanding Arts Organization, an honor bestowed by the Arts Council of Prince William County, the Chorale singers continue their efforts to make each and every performance special.

Growing into a Professional Organization

Alto Hannah Nixon of the Chorale and smaller ensemble said, “Participation in the Manassas Chorale over the years has afforded me an opportunity to continue growing in my love of music through learning, performing and socializing with fellow musicians. From our artistic director, Becky Verner, to the
fine accompanists we have been so fortunate to secure, I have witnessed its growth from a small-town group of people who enjoyed singing together to a large, professional organization of fine musicians.”

The auditioned 85-voice Chorale, the official choral group in residence at the Hylton Center, presents four performances each concert year in Manassas and one in Williamsburg. Rebecca Verner became artistic director of the Chorale in August 1997 and formed the 30-voice Chorale Ensemble in the fall of 1998. The next year, the Chorale sponsored the first Voices United event for the community, featuring a guest choral director who led a workshop on a group of songs for the concert. Workshop singers joined members of the Chorale, with these choral musicians representing more than 30 churches and choral groups this past spring.

But there’s more to the group’s story as its members look forward to its Silver Anniversary year starting in October.

The Chorale became a fully auditioned group in August 2005, with Diann Clark as the accompanist. Jon Laird joined the Chorale as accompanist in August 2007, and Kristina Schenck became the Chorale accompanist in January 2016.

The Chorale sang at the groundbreaking for the Hylton in June 2006, and then performed at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico in December 2007.

Members of the Chorale participated in the taping of “Dailey and Vincent LIVE” for a Public Broadcasting Service television show and a CD/DVD recording at the Hylton Performing Arts Center in September 2014.

In June 2015, some members of the Chorale participated in the groundbreaking ceremony for a custom home in Nokesville being built for wounded warrior Adam Devine, and they sang again in March 2017 during the “Key Ceremony” when the young man and his family were presented with the completed
home. Members of the Chorale have also sung at events and caroled in Old Town Manassas and for several years at the Arts Alive! Festival at the Hylton Center, and they have also shared their music with civic groups and at retirement homes.

The Chorale performs at Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg

Beginning in December 2002, the Chorale sang a candlelight concert at the historic Bruton Parish Church in Colonial Williamsburg and has continued to do so every year since. A number of singers from the Chorale have performed in New York City, at Carnegie Hall as part of the 70th anniversary celebration of Shawnee Press in June 2009, and as participants in the singing of “Memorial” at Lincoln Center to commemorate the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

In summer 2011, members of the Chorale went abroad on a tour of Germany and France with composer Joseph Martin as part of “An American Salute,” and others participated in “A Celtic Passage,” a musical tour of Ireland, Wales, and France during June and July 2016. Still others sang in Austria and Germany
this past June.

Enter the Children

In 2015 the Chorale created the Greater Manassas Children’s Choir (GMCC), which included a younger group for grades two through four and an older group for grades five through eight. The GMCC sings two concerts a year on its own and joins the Chorale for its spring concert. Past Chorale President and
soprano Diana Van Broekhoven feels that “this children’s choir has brought a closer connection with the community schools as well as with many families who want their children to have music [education]beyond school. These children are learning that music can be a habit of enjoyment for a lifetime.”

Michele Rupert, a music teacher and accomplished bassoonist and saxophone player who frequently plays with the Chorale orchestra, said, “Playing with the Chorale is a wonderful outlet for me as a musician. Because I work with children all day, I love the chance to be around adults who share the same passion as I do. As an educator, I appreciate the way the Chorale reaches out to children’s choirs and invites them to perform. The Chorale provides an inspiring and uplifting musical experience.”

Chorale alto Jennifer Blanchard shares similar sentiments: “Being a part of the Manassas Chorale for the past 16 years has enabled me to continue my lifelong love of singing with a great group of people and allowed me a creative outlet that feeds my soul and continually lifts my spirits. The Chorale has brought quality choral music to the greater Manassas area, enhancing the cultural life of local residents. Singing at the Hylton Center showcases our group in a professional setting, while our performances at civic events around town enable us to musically support many worthy causes. I hope we continue for another 25 years!”

Soprano Van Broekhoven adds that “the Chorale designates certain concerts as a ‘Concert with a Cause.’ At that time we invite audience members to bring a food item to the concert to join with Chorale members to make these contributions to a local shelter or food pantry.” She continues, “Music brings
people together, and it brings smiles to the faces of those listening, and maybe even a little toe tapping. When we sing for others, we leave with bigger smiles on our faces as well.”

During its 25-year history, the Chorale has seen large accomplishments and significant changes, but there have also been smaller moments along the way that shine like silver. And with the continuing efforts of the musicians of the Chorale, the Ensemble and the Greater Manassas Children’s Choir, the big
picture and small moments alike will be a part of the community for a long, long time.

For more information about the Chorale and its concerts as well as information about joining the group, go to manassaschorale.org, email info@manassaschorale.org, or visit facebook.com/ManassasChorale. For information about the Greater Manassas Children’s Choir, email gmccsings@gmail.com, go
to manassaschorale.org/gmcc, or visit facebook.com/GreaterManassasChildren’sChoir.

Dan Verner (dverner@princewilliamliving.com) is the author of several books and was named “Best Writer in Prince William County (Virginia) for 2014 and 2015 by readers in a “Best of Prince William” poll taken by Prince William Today newspaper. Find out more about him at danverner.com.

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