The Buffalo Choral Arts Society, a 115-member adult community chorus, will produce some vocal fireworks in Washington, D.C., this Independence Day.
The Choral Arts Society has lined up three days of high-profile appearances, including Evensong at the National Cathedral, a concert at the Kennedy Center, a presentation of patriotic tunes in the preshow for the National Independence Day Parade and two performances for patients, families and staff at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
"It's so incredible that the National Cathedral would take a community chorus," says Gail Leary, vice president of the chorus' board. "You can go to the National Cathedral and do a performance there, but they rarely let a community chorus do an Evensong service, and it happens to be a major weekend -- there will be a lot of people in Washington that weekend."
Richard M. Weinberg, director of communications for the National Cathedral, agrees. He says, "The selection process for any choir is fairly competitive, and we certainly consider it an honor for any ensemble to sing at the National Cathedral."
"It is an extraordinary journey and honor for us to be going to our nation's capital," says Marcia A. Giambrone, who is marking her 25th year as conductor and music director of the Choral Arts Society. "We have so many folks, especially on our board of directors, who just said, 'Yes, we can do this!' "
The idea for the Washington trip was born as the group returned from a concert tour of Quebec two years ago, says Giambrone. "On the bus ride trip back, somebody said, 'Where is next?' and I said, 'I'd love to go to Washington.' "
The Choral Arts Society, which has been around for 45 years, selected a tour company that provides transportation, arranges an itinerary, collects the required applications and paperwork and submits it to the venues. For the National Cathedral event, "we put together a 4-inch-thick notebook of data, including records, our history and letters of recommendation," says Giambrone. The chorus also had to submit an unedited recent recording of its performance of the Evensong service, which is a traditional Episcopalian service celebrated in the late afternoon or early evening, with texts taken from the Book of Common Prayer. "This was a very complicated process that took months for us to put together," Leary says of the submission, which was judged by the Cathedral's artist-in-residence, Jeremy Filsell.
Music for three of the Evensong pieces sung by the chorus -- the Magnificat (The Song of Mary), Nunc Dimittis (the Song of Simeon) and Phos Hilaron, or the service of light -- was written by Buffalo composer Roland E. Martin, choir director and organist at St. Joseph's University Church.
"We come from all different religions and all walks of life," says Leary of the group, whose members range in age from 18 to 88. "We are not professional choral singers, and we are not [all] Episcopalians, so for us to be accepted was absolutely huge."
At the Cathedral, starting at 3:30 p.m., the chorus will sing a prelude, a 25-minute a cappella performance of sacred music, followed by Evensong.
After the National Cathedral appearance, the group, which is expected to include 72 singers and 35 guests, mostly spouses, and accompanist John Mitton, has several more highlights planned.
Starting at 11 a.m. July 4, the group will sing patriotic songs near the Constitution Avenue reviewing stand before the Independence Day Parade. "We will be singing along with our own recording, doing 'God Bless America,' 'Let Freedom Ring' and a couple of other patriotic tunes," says Giambrone.
At 6 p.m., the group will present a 55-minute concert on the Millennium Stage at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. "Chairs are set up so anyone coming into the Kennedy Center at any time of day can sit and listen to a performing group," says Leary.
This concert will be streamed live on the website of the Kennedy Center (www.kennedy-center.org) under the listing for the Millennium Stage and then archived for future viewing.
On July 5, the chorus will split into two groups. One group will entertain in the dining hall of Walter Reed Army Medical Center during lunch for wounded soldiers and hospital staff, and the other will perform for recovering soldiers and their families in the Mologne House residence. Leary called the events "a tremendous honor for our chorus."
Membership in the chorus is based on audition. Dues of $75 per year are collected from each member, but scholarships are available, says Leary. "We're all just people who love to sing," she says.