Lenawee Community Chorus to give Spring Concert Saturday

Posted Wednesday, April 19, 2023
Author: Arlene Bachanov - Special to The Daily Telegram

ADRIAN — Back in 1967, Ray Maxe, then of the Adrian Parks and Recreation Department, approached Adrian College music professor Art Jones with the idea of creating a community choral group. The result was what was originally called the Adrian Community Chorus, now known as the Lenawee Community Chorus.

The chorus holds its 55th annual Spring Concert, titled “American Roots,” at 4 p.m. Saturday, April 22, at Adrian College’s Herrick Chapel. Tickets are $15 for adults and free for students and children and are available at lenaweecommunitychorus.com or at the door.

After Jones and Maxe laid the groundwork for the ensemble all those years ago, Jones went on sabbatical, and so the honor of being the chorus’ first conductor actually went to another Adrian College music professor, John Emerson. Jones returned in fall 1969 and would go on to serve as the group’s conductor until 1981 and again from 1982 — the year the ensemble was renamed the Lenawee Community Chorus — until 1988.

Over time, the ensemble moved from being led by a series of Adrian College professors to hiring other professional conductors. Joshua VanCampen, the current artistic director and conductor, first came on board as a student intern under David Ripper, the conductor from 2014 to 2019. After Ripper’s retirement, VanCampen succeeded him.

He quickly found a home with the chorus, which he said is Michigan’s oldest continually operating ensemble of its type — a no-audition group comprised of local people of all musical abilities who just love to come together and make music.

When he first arrived, he found a group of people who genuinely liked what they were doing and just enjoyed being together.

“They loved music and they loved each other, and there’s something very special about that,” he said.

And both VanCampen and board President Ed Engle Jr. agree that dynamic hasn’t changed at all over the years.

“The chorus has maintained its same basic personality,” Engle said.

Engle first came to vocal music when his son gave him a present of three lessons with Betsy and Michael Lackey. Those three lessons turned into about six months’ worth, and eventually the Lackeys recommended he look into joining the community chorus.

That was about 12 years ago.

“I was warmly welcomed,” he said, and to him that sense of camaraderie among the members is as much fun as the actual music-making.

Saturday’s concert includes a wide variety of the sort of music that arrived in America from distant lands. Some of those songs came thanks to immigrants who were seeking a piece of the American Dream. Some of it came from slaves brought to this country by force.

“When all these people came (to America), they came with songs in their hearts. It was part of their DNA,” Engel said. “And some of them came with great hope, and some of them came in chains.”

The program begins with a folk tune, “I Believe,” which opens with a solo voice and builds into a full choral piece. VanCampen chose that work as the opener specifically because of the idea it conveys.

“It’s like one person who had a melody in her heart, and people followed along,” he said.

Four spirituals come next, followed by “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” to close the first half of the program. That juxtaposition — spirituals sung by slaves working in the fields, and a song so interwoven with the Civil War — was also a deliberate choice on VanCampen’s part.

The concert’s second half begins with two songs that are newer but based on old texts, Andrea Ramsey’s “Lineage” and Troy Robertson’s “In Meeting We Are Blessed.” After that are tunes rooted in Ireland (“Shule Aroon”) and in the Hebrew scriptures (“Hine Ma Tov”), which VanCampen chose in honor of two of the immigrant groups who came to America in especially large numbers in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Three folk-style songs, two of them hymn tunes — Aaron Copland’s arrangement of “Zion’s Walls” and Drew Collins’ arrangement of the well-known hymn “Promised Land” — round out Saturday’s program.

To VanCampen, ending the concert with folk tunes only made sense. After all, he said, “this is where all of this led,” in that all the music that came to this country from other lands helped lay the groundwork for what we know as American folk music.

Saturday’s concert actually marks something of a departure for the Lenawee Community Chorus. When he was thinking about what the focus should be, VanCampen went back through the chorus’ programs all the way back to its beginnings, and discovered that it had marked every five years with a special concert but the music was always classical in nature.

“Not once (in those milestone concerts) did they ever do a song by an American composer,” he said. And, since he was planning one of those every-five-year special concerts, that got him to thinking.

When it comes to American music, “what really identifies who we are? … I kept coming back to the oral tradition,” the fact that so much of this country’s traditional music was shaped from person to person as the American “melting pot” took shape.

“And the music on this program is really extraordinary,” he said.

Anyone who likes to sing is welcome in the Lenawee Community Chorus, no matter their level of musical skill, and the ensemble is always seeking new members. Details are available at lenaweecommunitychorus.com.

Original Article: https://www.lenconnect.com/story/entertainment/music/2023/04/19/lenawee-community-chorus-spring-concert-april-22/70125827007/

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