Today marks the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, the chorus I’ve called my home since 1998.
Right now I’m sitting here in our den, listening to a WCRB broadcast from October 2018. That night I was on stage with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus singing an Einfelde meditation, followed by Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony (one of my all-time favorite pieces). Listening to the performance warms my heart… as did the virtual toast with 50+ past and current chorus members before the concert. Together we raised a glass in celebration of all the chorus has accomplished in five decades.
The TFC is special to me. It’s where I met (and later proposed to) my beautiful Tangle-wife. It’s dominated my Decembers for 22 Holiday Pops season. It’s been the destination for countless “adult sleep away camp” summer trips, first by myself, then with my wife, then with our kids. It’s given me a musical focus and an outlet for the creative side of my brain. And this year, by volunteering as the chair of the TFC Committee, it’s become an even more integral part of my life. So the chorus’s 50th milestone can’t help but be a special occasion for my family. It would be a privilege just to sing one concert on stage with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Hall or out on the Tanglewood grounds… and now my “privilege” is showing, because I’ve lost count of the hundreds of times I’ve mounted the risers to make music with this ensemble.
Today is also a special day for many TFC members and alumni who came to the chorus through John Oliver, the founder of the chorus who led us for 45 of its 50 years, as it’s also the anniversary of his death two years ago. I’ve written extensively about John’s influence on all of us, and how much he personally meant to me as a gateway to choral singing, a philosophical muse , and a musical north star. Many of us owe so much to him for the guidance he provided, both musically and personally. We will always cherish his memory and an underlying foundation for the chorus’s spirit.
Now, under James Burton’s leadership, the chorus’s story continues. We are all growing musically and finding even greater fulfillment through our performances. The chorus’s reputation is growing, earning us opportunities we’d never had before to sing unaccompanied (or lightly accompanied) on the Symphony Hall stage, or even on the main stage at the Shed. As a choral unit, we’re pushing our envelope to achieve a precision and uniformity of sound, even when singing for what were once throwaway Pops concerts. The culture of continuous improvement is spreading. I have high hopes for what we’ll achieve in the next decade and beyond, and I’m looking forward to being a part of it.
Because of the global pandemic, we did not get to celebrate the 50th anniversary as originally planned, with a performance of Rachmaninoff’s Vespers as quasi-Easter vigil service out at the new Tanglewood Learning Institute. Like many other events during the pandemic, no doubt it’ll be rescheduled so we can more properly mark the moment. But until then, the broadcast performance, the toasts, the shared memories and reflections, and our “happy 50th” cake will suffice!