Masterpiece Chorale's diverse group hits all the right notes
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Rehearsals are beginning again for the annual performance of the Southern Lakes Masterpiece Chorale, shown above in a past concert. The group is made up of more than 100 singers of various ages and abilities. Submitted photo by Debbie Janns.
ELKHORN -- A director who has dedicated his life to music, singers, soloists, orchestra members and audiences has created a “perfect storm” in the Southern Lakes Masterpiece Chorale.
This year’s performance, which will take place on Friday, April 26, will begin with the Ralph Vaughn Williams piece “Fantasy on a Theme of Thomas Tallis,” followed by the “Serenade to Music” for chorus, orchestra and soloists. The second half of the program will feature Giacomo Puccini’s “Messa di Gloria” for orchestra and four-part choir with tenor, bass and baritone soloists.
(Read all of this week's stories from Walworth County Sunday HERE. )
In the nearly three decades since director Richard Severing began the choral group, participation and concert attendance has grown. More than 100 singers take part, and the performance, held at the 812-seat Wehner Auditorium at Elkhorn Area High School, is attended by near-capacity audiences.
In past years, the chorale has performed classical and sacred pieces -- some familiar, some not often performed.
“I ask myself, ‘Is this a piece the chorus and orchestra will enjoy performing and the audience will enjoy hearing? Will we be able to afford to perform this piece? Will we be able to sing it successfully?’”
Choosing the musical pieces is a familiar process for Severing, who directs not only the chorale, but also the Choral Union Limited in Janesville (since 1993) and serves as director of music at Cargill United Methodist Church in Janesville (since 2002).
Severing said working with three organizations is gratifying, humbling and satisfying.
“I am happy to be in a position to bring this art form to all of the people who are involved in singing or playing, as well as those who come to the productions we do,” he says. “It is terrific to be a part of making this music happen with everyone who cares so deeply that we do the very best we are able to do.”
“Letting the music happen” is a phrase Severing uses as he talks about how the music comes together in a performance.
“There are many moments during a performance when things come together just right,” he said. “Looking back on those moments, I realize they were times when I was able to get out of the way ... and just let music happen. I was able to stop trying to control the production and let everyone else do what was right. Those times are great!”
Severing has spent the past 45 years helping put together those “great” moments. With a bachelor of music education degree from Milton College and a master of music degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, his career has encompassed teaching as well as directing organizations.
Severing taught for 25 years at Delavan-Darien High School and has taught music courses at the University of Wisconsin-Rock County and the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. He also co-founded and conducted the Northern Wisconsin Summer Music Festival and the Lake Mills Civic Chorus. He also has conducted the Beaver Dam Oratorio Society and the Harvard Choral Society.
He finds working with people who are not professionally trained to be rewarding. None of the groups he works with requires an audition for participation.
“We welcome people of all abilities and ages,” he said.
Severing’s wife and colleague, Marie Severing, has been a vocal music teacher at Big Foot High School since 1986 and often is the featured soprano soloist for the chorale.
“My wife is my best friend and an outstanding soloist and musician,” Severing relates. “Years ago, I was concerned that people might wonder about my using her as a soloist so frequently. I finally realized that I am using her as a soloist because she is a top of the line soloist!”
Singing, making friends
Members of the chorale say they value the opportunity to sing classic and sacred choral music -- and to do so locally.
Jan Olson of Elkhorn has been singing with the organization since its second year, missing only two performances since then. She heard Dick Severing’s choir sing at her church, and thought “how exciting would that be.”
She joined the group after hearing the chorale’s first performance.
“Once you’re out of college, you don’t have a lot of opportunities to sing this sort of music,” Olson said. “And the genius of this is, you don’t have to try out for it. The music is challenging and stimulating, and you’re exposed to people with many levels of expertise."
For the complete story, read the Feb. 3 e-edition of Walworth County Sunday HERE.
Let the singing begin
-- Rehearsals for the new Southern Lakes Masterpiece Chorale season are held Tuesdays in the choir room at Elkhorn Area High School, 482 E. Geneva St., Elkhorn. New participants may join the chorale by registering at 6:30 p.m. and receive their musical scores. Dues cost $20. The rehearsal will run from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. No auditions are necessary.
-- The performance is set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 26, in the auditorium at EAHS. Call (608) 741-5074 for advance sales.