Making Magnificent Music Since 1948
The Choral Society was formed at Oak Creek Park following a performance of Elijah!, an oratorio by Felix Mendelssohn depicting events in the life of the Prophet Elijah. Jaffrey Harris was the conductor. The group included 32 sopranos, 19 altos, 7 tenors, 2 baritones, and 4 basses. The first season included Bach’s Mass in B Minor and Handel’s Messiah. Until 1961, the principal underwriter for the Choral Society was the Santa Barbara County Adult Education Program.
Dr. Harold Einecke took the baton as conductor in 1951. He initiated collaborative programs with the Santa Barbara Bach Festival and the Pacific Coast Festival, including a concert with Leopold Stokowski conducting. The Choral Society also began to work with the Santa Barbara Symphony under the direction of Erno David, performing works such as Psalmus Hungaricus by Kodaly and Magnificat by Alan Hovaness.
1961-1966Dr. Stanley Krebs, UCSB faculty member, composer and expert on contemporary Russian music, became the Music Director of the Choral Society. He initiated engagements with Westmont College and the Santa Maria Symphony. During his tenure, the Choral Society tackled Mussorgsky’s opera Boris Godunov in Russian, prompting a number of singers to leave over objections to singing “communist music.”
William Hatcher, Music Director of Santa Barbara High School and Chorus Master for opera productions at the Music Academy of the West, took over as Conductor, and there was a “growth spurt” for the chorus, now at 80 singers. Santa Barbara Choral Society was named one of 59 choral groups in the nation to win funding from the National Endowment of the Arts. The group sang Gilbert and Sullivan, Mozart and Shubert, as the Choral Society’s solvency and enthusiasm bounced back. Collaborations with the Music Academy of the West began with concerts featuring the Mozart Requiem as well as Ernest Bloch’s Sacred Service.
Under the direction of UCSB’s Michael Livingstone, the Choral Society entered into a period of stability and maturity, with ambitious programming like the West Coast Premiere of The Light in the Wilderness, a jazz oratorio by Santa Barbara resident, Dave Brubeck
Albert Campbell followed with his decade-long tenure as Music Director. The 25th Anniversary of the Choral Society was celebrated with its first performance of Orff’s Carmina Burana. The perfomance inspired Santa Barbara composer, John Biggs, to write Canticle of Life, scored for chorus, soloists, orchestra and dancers. To raise money for the production a pop concert was presented at the Earl Warren Showground complete with Bach, the Beatles, a barbershop quartet, and a belly dancer. The group performed Handel’s Israel in Egypt in Ventura in June 1981, concluding Al Campbell’s tenure.
The attraction to more unconventional choral works that marked the time of Livingstone and Campbell was coupled with a new culture of musical excellence by choosing Steven Craig Townsend as Music Director of the Choral Society. In addition to its own concerts, the chorus performed with the Japanese Philharmonic at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, with the Santa Barbara Symphony, the UCSB Collegiate Chorale, and the Music Academy in productions of Manon, La Boheme and Henry Purcell’s King Arthur to great acclaim at the Ojai Music Festival. Broadway “classics” were also a favorite Townsend program.
1993 – 2008
The Choral Society hired its first female Music Director, Jo Anne Wasserman in 1993. She brought new professionalism to the organization by instituting a policy of paid section leaders and annual singer auditions. In 1998, to mark its 50th Anniversary, the Choral Society collaborated with the Santa Barbara Symphony to sing Orff’s Carmina Burana.
Milestones during this period included: three international concert tours; participation in the worldwide 2002 9/11 Rolling Requiem, and spearheading a nationwide rolling Mozart’s Requiem of Remembrance on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. The chorus expanded its collaborative efforts by participating in Opera Santa Barbara’s Gala Opera Festivals and annual performances of major choral masterworks with the Santa Barbara Symphony, which has continued to this day.
2008 – 2012
The Choral Society moved to the Granada Theater as a resident company and collaborated with the State Street Ballet in a joint production of a world premiere ballet production of Carmina Burana (2008) and Love, Love, Love (2010) with choreography by William Soleau and original music by Beatles’ producer, Sir George Martin (2010). Performances the following season included The Messiah, Verdi’s Requiem, and Vaughan-Williams’ A Sea Symphony.
Seeking a more renaissance acoustic for certain repertoire, Ms. Wasserman selected San Roque Catholic Church in Santa Barbara for performances of Bach’s B minor Mass in 2011, and American composer, Rollo Dilworth’s The Rain Sequence in 2012.
2012 – 2016
The Choral Society introduced its very successful Masterworks Series with a performance of Duruflé’s Requiem with the Westmont College Choir. The Out of Africa Gala in 2012 featured a new repertoire for the chorus, a musical safari of voices, percussion, and rich harmonies, conducted by the renowned choral director, Dr. Eugene Rogers. The Masterworks concert in 2013 featured Mozart’s Grand Mass in C minor and a special performance of Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy with concert pianist, Alexander Wasserman, the conductor’s son.
The Choral Society introduced its first Hallelujah Project family holiday concert at the Lobero Theatre in 2013, with a narration of T’was the Night Before Christmas accompanied by orchestra, and special visit from Santa. This became the beginning of a holiday tradition that is now the beginning of what is now an annual holiday tradition. The 275th anniversary of Handel’s Messiah in 2016 was celebrated by a performance of the entire work at the Music Academy’s Hahn Hall with soloists hand-picked by Marilyn Horne from the Music Academy’s long list of talented graduates. The season concluded with a grand international tour of Italy with piano concerts devoted to the incredible music of Morten Lauridsen, who accompanied the group on tour.
In 2015, the Choral Society collaborated with both the Santa Barbara Symphony under the baton of Maestro Nir Kabaretti, and State Street Ballet, featuring original choreography by William Soleau, in a thrilling performance of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. This collaboration has been revived for a spectacular October 2022 performance at The Granada Theatre.
2017 – present
The Choral Society celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2018 with a grand Alumni Concert that included Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass, and selected works by Ralph Vaughan Williams and contemporary composer, Christopher Tin. The 70th Anniversary Gala Concert that year was a true Sentimental Journey. A very meaningful and moving Visions of Peace and Freedom concert was presented in 2019 when Ron Kean’s The Journey of Harriet Tubman was performed by the Choral Society. This 5-movement, multi-media choral drama honors one of the great heroes of the emancipation era. The journey of those who sacrificed becomes a story we can relive and honor. In April of the same year, the Choral Society joined many other choruses in Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara Symphony to sing the magnificent Verdi Requiem at the Granada Theatre, a rare and wonderful experience.
With the global COVID–19 pandemic came the shuttering of theaters and concert halls throughout 2020 and much of 2021. So performing arts organizations had to find creative ways to keep their music alive. The Choral Society stayed engaged by providing a music education series to its members with lectures and classes by Dr. Mark Sumner of UC Berkeley and Tracy Van Fleet, accomplished mezzo soprano. Guest contemporary composers Morten Lauridsen and Christopher Tin and Maestro Nir Kabaretti were also invited to present informal on-line discussions about their lives and music careers. As with many other choruses, we produced a virtual video entitled How Can We Keep From Singing in April 2021, which was part narrative documentary about the Choral Society, and part concert with selections from The Messiah and, of course, a beautiful arrangement of How Can I Keep From Singing.
The past, present and future come together for The Choral Society’s 75th Anniversary Season in 2022-23. This celebratory season will have something for everyone from the Carmina Burana revival in October, to a grand finale Oak Park 75 picnic on the same day as the organization’s founding on June 28, with current and former singers, friends and families coming together to celebrate this milestone anniversary.