St. Catherine Choral Society Celebrates 20 years
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 centerpiece of this year’s Sing for Joy! concert will be the finale of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, the Ode to Joy. “Magnificat” by Baldassare Galuppi and several of Copland’s Old American Songs will also be featured.
The 75-member choir will be joined by soloists Kristie Tigges (soprano), Angela Keeton (mezzo), Richard Joseph (tenor) and Seth Keeton (bass), along with some of the region’s finest professional orchestral musicians.
The St. Catherine Choral Society was formed in 1993 by Director Patricia Cahalan Connors to give St. Kate’s students an opportunity to sing in a mixed choir and for men and women from the community to sing masterpieces with a professional orchestra.
Over the years, the choir has sung classics like Mozart’s Requiem or Handel’s Messiah; newer works like Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms or Stephen Paulus’s “Break Forth in Song;” and premieres of works by Jocelyn Hagen and the late Professor Emeritus of Music Albert Biales.
More than music
The community aspect is a draw for many of the choir’s members, including Michelle Sieben ’08, a music therapist who works with individuals suffering from dementia or related memory care problems.
“I really like the wide assortment of people that are in it. There are alumnae, current staff and a few CSJs as well as current students. We’ve even had a few father-daughter teams,” she says.
For another alumna, Sondra Reierson ’07, the choral society has been a great way to stay connected with her friends and classmates.
“Everyone seems to come back from time to time and it’s really great fun when they all happen to be there at the same time. For a number of semesters in a row, when we were all there together, we’d go out to Baker’s Square after rehearsal. We’d just sit around and catch up,” Reierson says.
Over the years members have come and gone, and come back again as job schedules change, babies are born and grow, members share in each others joys and sorrows. Connors admits the Choral Society has become a family of sorts. After all, she met her husband, Russ, when he joined the choir.
“It was really the choral society that brought Russ and I together. I’m always looking for new men to sing, so whenever I met new male faculty members, I would always ask them to audition for the choir. Russ auditioned, and the rest is history,” says Connors.
The couple married and had two children, Elizabeth and Patrick. Russ was later diagnosed with cancer and passed away on July 5, 2011.
Russ’ death proved an emotional, pivotal moment for the choir. Standing outside his funeral, several long-time members, including Ron Eldred, discussed what could be done in honor of their beloved friend.
“Within a few days, we determined that the right way to go would be to commission an original piece for the choir. I called Patty, we talked it over, and she said ‘of course,’” says Eldred.
Choir members worked on raising money, collected Russ’ writing and speeches to use as the inspiration for the piece, and chose Albert Biales, a friend and colleague of Connors, as the composer. Biales completed the piece, “Tribute,” just days before his own death.
“Call it what you will, but the timing was hardly coincidence, it was a miracle. Al called Patty from the hospital and said the last pages were at the printer. He wanted to make sure that she knew he was finished,” says Eldred.
“The whole experience, from start to finish, has to be the one of the big highlights of my life,” says Connors. “To have had our good friend and colleague, Al Biales, compose a piece in honor of Russ — to have an idea like that come to fruition — the whole thing was sort of miraculous.”
The Driving Force
Ask any long-term member of the St. Catherine Choral Society what brings them back year after year, and the answer is unanimous: Director Patty Connors.
“She’s consistently positive, she’s demanding without being overbearing, she helps us grow as singers and she chooses an excellent orchestra of professionals to play with us at the very end,” says Eldred, a neighbor and choir member since 1994.
Reierson, who joined the choir the fall after her graduation, adds this: “Dr. Connors has enough energy for the other 80 people in the room. She really knows how to get the best singing out of us, whether it’s shape of a vowel or where the pitch is.”
“I’m honored by the sentiments. The Choral Society has really fed me as well as the people in it,” says Connors. “My goal is always for us to perform music in the most beautiful way possible – that is true to the composer’s intention – and to enjoy it.”
Luckily, she has no plans of retiring anytime soon.
“I always used to think if I could conduct the Brahms Requiem in performance, I can retire. But I didn’t retire! I’ve now done it twice with the St. Catherine Choral Society. Whenever I’m involved in the concentrated process of rehearsing and then bringing to fruition a performance, it’s a thrill,” says Connors.
And as the choir’s biggest advocate, Connors wants readers to know, the St. Catherine Choral Society always needs more tenors and basses. So watch for upcoming audition notices!
Related story: Soundtrack to her life: 20 years in the Choral Society