Music lovers from Redmond will take part as Choral Arts presents “American Hallelujah,” a joyful concert of American hymns and spirituals, also including The Total Experience Gospel Choir. Performances are at 7 p.m. Friday, April 30 at St. Mark’s Cathedral, 1245 10th Ave. E. in Seattle; and at 7 p.m. Saturday, May 1 at First Presbyterian Church, 1717 Bellevue Way NE in Bellevue. Tickets are $18-23. (Visit www.choral-arts.org.)
Redmond resident Donna O’Connor has been Choral Arts’ managing director since August 2009.
The group’s members come from everywhere in the Puget Sound region, and “everybody has a day job, too … but the artistic ability is quite exceptional,” said O’Connor. “We are an a cappella ensemble, with an occasional pianist. Many (of the singers) are professionally trained. Some teach music. All have a love of music in common and are of a professional caliber.”
Sara Womack, who also lives in Redmond, joined Choral Arts in 1999. She’s a freelance health consultant and mother of two young children.
“I’ve loved to sing as long as I can remember,” Womack remarked. “After graduating college, I was interested in finding a group that would allow me to continue singing. For me, singing provides a much-needed balance to the schedules and pace of everyday life. The Seattle area has a lot to offer in terms of choral music, but I was drawn to Choral Arts because of the reputation of the purity of their sound.”
Womack added that her family attends St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Bellevue, where “I enjoy singing hymns … and singing with my daughter during Sunday School music time — or at home in the kitchen, for that matter.”
Both O’Connor and Womack mentioned educational outreach as a priority of Choral Arts.
According to Womack, Choral Arts artistic director Robert Bode has allowed students of any age free admittance to all of the group’s performances.
“Last year, for example, we visited local schools to talk about J.S. Bach, his contribution to our history and (to) sing excerpts from his pieces,” said Womack.
Choral Arts has also invited area youth choirs to perform with the organization, including groups from Newport and Interlake High Schools and Columbia Vocal Ensemble, an ensemble of ninth grade through college-aged singers within the Eastside-based Columbia Choirs. Columbia Choirs also has Redmond ties, with groups meeting at Redmond High School and Faith Lutheran Church. (Visit www.columbiachoirs.com/redmond.)
As well, “Choral Arts is interested in building relationships with schools on the Eastside, both through the Finding Your Voice Poetry Contest and by offering mentorships and performance opportunities to high school choirs,” said Womack.
At the “American Hallelujah” concerts, a sixth grader from Puyallup, Leeann Reed, is the “Finding Your Voice” winner whose poem will be set to music.
Another Choral Arts singer from Redmond, Gary Panek is a piano teacher planning to audition for graduate school.
“Singing feels very natural and free,” said Panek, who joined Choral Arts two years ago. “After returning from a year of teaching English in Japan, I heard about Choral Arts through a friend and he hooked me up with Robert Bode, who, as it turned it, needed a tenor.
Panek added, “I have been musical my whole life. … My grandpa was a great tenor. I have found memories of him singing next to me at church with his booming voice. So I have been singing since I was young.”