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Hampshire Choral Society celebrates 60th anniversary

  • Allan Taylor conducts the Hampshire Choral Society during a recent  rehearsal at the Northampton Senior Center.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Allan Taylor conducts the Hampshire Choral Society during a recent rehearsal at the Northampton Senior Center.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Members of the Hampshire Choral Society rehearse for the group's all-Beethoven concert at Northampton Senior Center. <br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Members of the Hampshire Choral Society rehearse for the group's all-Beethoven concert at Northampton Senior Center.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Phil Hotchkiss, front, and other members of the bass section of the Hampshire Choral Society rehearse.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Phil Hotchkiss, front, and other members of the bass section of the Hampshire Choral Society rehearse.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Mary Duffy Morris rehearses with the Hampshire Choral Society. JERREY ROBERTS

    Mary Duffy Morris rehearses with the Hampshire Choral Society. JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Allan Taylor, right, conducting the Hampshire Choral Society during a rehearsal, is a “completely un-pompous conductor who manages to keep a large unruly group of opinionated singers well under control without bullying them,” says chorus member Marietta Pritchard.<br/><br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Allan Taylor, right, conducting the Hampshire Choral Society during a rehearsal, is a “completely un-pompous conductor who manages to keep a large unruly group of opinionated singers well under control without bullying them,” says chorus member Marietta Pritchard.

    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Allan Taylor conducts the Hampshire Choral Society during a recent rehearsal at the Northampton Senior Center.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Allan Taylor conducts the Hampshire Choral Society during a recent rehearsal at the Northampton Senior Center.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Allan Taylor conducts the Hampshire Choral Society during a recent  rehearsal at the Northampton Senior Center.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Members of the Hampshire Choral Society rehearse for the group's all-Beethoven concert at Northampton Senior Center. <br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Phil Hotchkiss, front, and other members of the bass section of the Hampshire Choral Society rehearse.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Mary Duffy Morris rehearses with the Hampshire Choral Society. JERREY ROBERTS
  • Allan Taylor, right, conducting the Hampshire Choral Society during a rehearsal, is a “completely un-pompous conductor who manages to keep a large unruly group of opinionated singers well under control without bullying them,” says chorus member Marietta Pritchard.<br/><br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Allan Taylor conducts the Hampshire Choral Society during a recent rehearsal at the Northampton Senior Center.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

As the Hampshire Choral Society marks its 60th anniversary this year, members say they are heartened by its growth over the past decade. The group that had 65 members in 2001 now has 120 singers, ranging in age from 21 to 81. All the members share a love for singing classical chorus songs in a big group, says Mary Morris, a 30-year member and a former president of the group.

“When I moved here in 1984 from New York City, I didn’t know anyone,” Morris said. “I decided to join the chorus to meet people.” During her first few months with the group, she says, she met six people who are still her friends today.

Like Morris, many of the members grew up singing in choruses in high school, and missed it after graduation.

“That’s partly why I keep coming back. I love singing in big groups of people. It’s exciting,” Morris said.

In honor of the 60-year mark for the group that features adult amateur singers, the chorus will perform music by Beethoven Sunday at 3 p.m. at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Fine Arts Center, under the baton of Allan Taylor.

Taylor, who has been the HCS musical director for 12 years, says the concert will highlight typical Beethoven drama and also his lyrical, melodic side.

Beethoven is known for being one of the first classical composers to successfully use dramatic contrasts in his pieces that stir emotion and convey the human condition, Taylor says. His first priority was to express himself, which is what made his music so dramatic and visceral.

The program’s centerpiece is Beethoven’s Mass in C, opus 86, which is widely regarded as one of the composer’s masterworks, according to information provided by HCS, and “is known for its graceful vocal writing and for the skillful weaving of power and lyricism.” According to information provided by HCS, “The Mass calls for a full orchestra, large chorus and four soloists, a visual and aural spectacle, fit for celebrating 60 years of singing.”

Taylor says this concert is especially important because it marks the group’s status as one of the longest-running choruses in New England.

Vying for a spot

It’s also one of the biggest: “We’re the largest adult choir in New England outside of Boston,” Morris said.

Indeed, the chorus has become so popular, Morris says, with as many as 160 members at a time, that singers must reserve a spot to audition.

Some HCS members travel long distances to be part of the group: a few drive in from Wellesley every week; Taylor commutes from the Springfield area; and other members come from Westfield and Connecticut. And though there are a few music professionals in the group, most, like Morris, learn through experience.

“There’s a certain magical process where people from all walks of life come together and join for a common purpose,” Taylor said.

While concerts in the past have been held at John M. Greene Hall on the Smith College Campus, the group has gotten so large over the past two years, Morris says, that its fall and spring concerts now are held in the larger-capacity Fine Arts Center Concert Hall at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, which seats 1,800.

Come together

Taylor said he got the job with HCS 12 years ago because he had experience as a church organist and choir director. He is an assistant professor of music at Westfield State University, where he teaches music theory, conducting, music history, and directs the two choral ensembles. He also has directed “Novi Cantori,” a professional chamber choir that performs throughout New England, and the Greater Westfield Choral Association.

Taylor is a “completely un-pompous conductor who manages to keep a large unruly group of opinionated singers well under control without bullying them,” said chorus member Marietta Pritchard.

“With a group so large, I have to speak up when I give instructions and really manage people,” Taylor said. “It’s important that we use time wisely since this is the one time many of the chorus members take during the week to do something just for themselves for recreation. ... By the time a concert comes around, they really come together.”

The all-Beethoven program will be presented Sunday at 3 p.m. at the UMass Fine Arts Center Concert Hall. Tickets cost $15; $10 for students and seniors; $5 for children under 10 years old. Tickets are available at A.J. Hastings in Amherst; Cooper’s Corner in Florence; State Street Fruit Store and Broadside Books, both in Northampton; and at the door.

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