by OLIVIA DORFMAN
Half a century ago, about a dozen passionate amateur musicians gathered around a kitchen table sharing their love of singing. Among them were Mariella and Gerry Stout, Ted Jones, Ruth Boshkoff, and Bill Ziemer. “They began with madrigals,” says Gerald Sousa, 68, director of the Bloomington Chamber Singers since 1989.
A lot has happened in those 50 years. Special events celebrating the Bloomington Chamber Singers’ 50th season include an anniversary gala at 6 p.m. September 26 at The Woolery. Singers will include invited alumni and special guests. Tickets are $50.
Sousa says five decades of growth have had quite an impact. “For the first five or six years it was an informal group who loved to sing,” he explains. In June 1970, Ann Kearns, a flutist from the then-newly formed Bloomington Symphony Orchestra, organized what was called the Bloomington Chamber Ensemble. All of their concerts were free.
The first director was Dennis Shrock, then a graduate student in conducting at Indiana University. In 1980, the group became the Bloomington Chamber Singers.
When Sousa became director there were 25 to 30 singers; today the group has 45 to 50, depending on the piece they are performing. In his first year as director, Sousa initiated the annual Messiah Sing at Christmas, now a 30-year tradition. The group balances a cappella pieces with compositions in the standard repertoire along with what Sousa calls his passion: the great choral and orchestral masterworks.
With singers ranging in age from high school students to those in their 80s, the Bloomington Chamber Singers includes standard soprano, alto, tenor, and bass voices. “Most are professionals in their own fields,” Sousa notes. Many have connections with Indiana University. All have solid musical backgrounds. Annual auditions are held in August.
Moving into the next 50 years, Sousa says, “We’re going through a reinventing of ourselves as an organization. We’re at a mature point now and the emphasis is turning outside ourselves.”
This spring, the group will perform Considering Matthew Shepard by Craig Hella Johnson. “The music is incredibly eclectic,” says Sousa. “It is not about Matthew’s horror [a gay student, he was tortured and murdered in 1998], but what it implies. It has a beautiful libretto.” The one-night-only performance will be held at the Buskirk Chumley Theater on May 2, 2020.
For more information on the September gala and other events, visit chambersingers.info.
Editor’s note: This story has been amended to reflect a change in the start time for the Bloomington Chamber Singers’ anniversary gala. (August 8, 2019)