Chorus hopes to strike an upbeat chord with HP community

The Highland Park Community Chorus is looking for a few good men — and women, too.

The chorus, now in its 29th season, will hold its audition for the spring/summer choral concert series at 7 p.m. Monday, January 26 at the Reformed Church of Highland Park on South Second Avenue. The chorus is looking for adults who can sing in the soprano, alto, tenor or bass ranges.

“Getting men is always challenging, but we have a relatively solid tenor-bass section,” said Joanne Williams, president of the chorus and a founding member. The chorus now has about 40 members drawn from across the region, including from as far away as Maplewood.

The chorus is in its third year under the direction of Benjamin Berman, who also serves as music director of First Reformed Church in New Brunswick.

The spring concert this year is scheduled for May 16, when the chorus will perform the English edition of Joseph Haydn’s “The Seasons.” Originally written in both German and English for wider appeal in Europe, “The Seasons” first was performed in Austria in 1801. The oratorio is divided into four parts, to represent each of the seasons, with three vocal soloists to represent archetypal country folk.

The Highland Park Community Chorus began in 1986 when voice instructor and former opera singer Jennie Feigenbaum decided to form a chorus with some of her musical acquaintances. Through their efforts, the first concert of the chorus came in spring 1987. For the next 10 years, as the chorus grew, members rehearsed weekly and annually performed at a spring concert.

In 1998, the chorus made its debut with its first winter concert with a performance of Handel’s “Messiah,” done in collaboration with other area choirs. It has held both spring and winter concerts each year since.

Through the years the membership has ranged from a mere seven to a stunning 55. Members have ranged from graduate students to retirees, and have included both men and women. Their skill has ranged from those with an ability to sight-read music, to those who need a little help.

“We have them all, but we really try very hard to challenge everybody,” said Mrs. Williams. “We always say our focus is to bring everybody up, rather than dumb it down to the lowest common denominator.”

The chorus raises funding for its expenses through a combination of membership dues, fund-raisers and grants allocated by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.

The chorus also maintains an extensive music library. Since 1994, the chorus has rehearsed and often performed at Reformed Church of Highland Park, but it is not a religiously oriented chorus as far as membership or music selection.

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