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Soundtrack to her life: 20 years in the Choral Society

Jennifer Madden, charter member of the St. Catherine Choral Society
Jennifer Madden, charter member of the St. Catherine Choral Society
Photo supplied

The St. Catherine Choral Society, a community masterworks choir sponsored by St. Catherine University, celebrates its 20th Anniversary this year with a concert entitled Sing for Joy on Nov. 17 at 3 p.m. in The O’Shaughnessy.

The choir was formed in 1993 by director Patricia Cahalan Connors, to provide an opportunity for St. Kate’s students to sing in a mixed choir, and for men and women from the community to sing great works with a professional orchestra.

A math and French teacher at Parkway Montessori and Community Middle School, Jennifer Madden sings second soprano with the St. Catherine Choral Society. Twenty years ago, Madden responded to an ad in the Highland Villager about the newly formed St. Catherine Choral Society. She’s been involved ever since and is considered a charter member. 

Did you have any previous connection with St. Catherine University before joining the Choral Society?

I did not. I grew up in the neighborhood and always knew of St. Catherine, but I did not go to school there. What drew me to the group was that it was a choir that was close to my house. Music was a big part of my college experience and I also sang all through high school. I’d had a couple years off from choir when I saw the advertisement in the Highland Villager for auditions. And so, the rest is history.

What keeps you coming back to the Choral Society each year?

Patty has kept me there. She is a phenomenal conductor — her choice of music, the way she runs the rehearsal. It’s like a mini voice lesson every time you go to choir.  She knows how to warm you up, she knows how to get you excited, and when you’re having trouble with a part, she figures out a way to break it down step-by-step so you and your section can make beautiful music. It’s amazing. 

Since I’ve been a part of Choral Society, I’ve been able to become a cantor at my church.  Twenty years ago, I never would have done that, but working with Patty gave me courage.  About ten years ago, I started cantoring at church and sing with that choir as well.

I also love the friends that I’ve made in choir.  You know, charter members who have sang as long as I have, knowing Patty this whole time, seeing her family grow, getting to know her husband and being just as sad as she was when he passed away — it’s kind of your family. 

What’s your favorite aspect of being in the Choral Society?

The highlight is always dress rehearsal — when, for the first time, you get to perform and practice your pieces with professional orchestra members that are then part of the choir concert the next day. That’s the highlight of singing with a big masterwork chorus like we are. We’re singing with professional musicians. We ourselves may not be professional musicians, but the fact that we get to join forces with them is amazing.

I love it when we do something a little different, something that’s not the traditional chorus masterwork series.  We’ve sung opera chorus numbers, we’ve done Leonard Bernstein pieces from West Side Story, and in our upcoming concert we’re singing Copland’s Old American Songs.

What’s the most difficult piece you’ve sung?

The Bach Magnificat was the hardest.  We’re singing a different Magnificat this year, but the Bach we’ve sung two or three times was a definite challenge. There’s this last part that I might have to sing one more time before I get it down. It’s hard.

Singing Handel’s Messiah, singing something by Rutter, singing Stabat Mater a long time ago — the music is always great whether it’s hard, or whether it’s easier. The music has become the background to this every Thursday night ritual that I have. The Choral Society has been one of the highlights of the past 20 years of my life!

General admission tickets to the St. Catherine Choral Society’s 20th Anniversary concert are $10 for adults, $5 for students (through college) and free with St. Catherine University ID. Tickets may be purchased the day of the show or in advance at The O'Shaughnessy ticket office.

Related story: St. Catherine Choral Society celebrates 20 years

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Nov. 13, 2013 by Sharon Rolenc

See also: Arts