A legacy of voices raised in song
The 40th anniversary of the Taos Community Chorus is upon us
By Ariana Kramer
email@example.com Posted Friday, May 10, 2019 12:01 am
Taos Community Chorus (TCC) celebrates its 40th anniversary this season. Current conductor Erick Brunner and past conductor and current chorus member Bob Draper discussed the longevity of this Taos institution. From its origins as a small group of enthusiastic singers to its current incarnation as a robust community group, the chorus has had an interesting journey.
The Taos Community Chorus will perform “Opera Chorus Greatest Hits – Just for the Joy of it!” Sunday (May 12) at First Presbyterian Church, 215 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. The performance will be repeated Saturday and Sunday (May 18-19) at St. James Episcopal Church, 208 Camino de Santiago.
All three performances begin at 3 p.m. A reception follows the final performance on May 19. Concert tickets are $20, $15 for seniors and free for those 18 years and under.
The performances feature a variety of opera choruses by Pietro Mascagni, Gioachino Rossini, Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner, with some ensemble pieces interspersed throughout the program.
“TCC is dedicating its 40th anniversary spring season concerts to Avis Vermilye and Peter Chinni, both of whom were avid singers, dear friends and cherished members of Taos Community Chorus,” a press release states. “In addition, TCC is celebrating the continued camaraderie, enthusiasm and dedication that its many, many singers have exhibited over the past 40 years to help make TCC the unique organization that it is.”
The way Draper recalls it, Bradford Morse was choir director at First Presbyterian Church when Draper moved here in the early 1970s. Morse conducted the “Messiah” twice and “Elijah” in the early 1970s and Draper sang with him. Then, the Taos Community Auditorium hosted a production of “West Side Story” in 1978, and a string of musicals followed. This inspired a group of singers to coalesce. About 20 other directors have followed since.
“Simultaneously, we started a little madrigal group,” recalled Draper. Some of the early members in the group were Jean Kenin, Isabella Draper, John and Kathleen Kingslight and Richard and Cathy McCracken. Soon after, Susan Berman started the Taos Community Orchestra and the madrigal group’s choral efforts grew. The two groups merged and became the Taos Community Orchestra and Chorus with Susan Berman conducting the orchestra and Bob Draper conducting the chorus.
Draper is a plumber by trade and the owner of Phoenix Mechanical. He has been steeped in music for his entire life. He sang in church and school while growing up, and continued to sing for his college’s choir. He also took some coursework in musical conducting at Adam State University later in his life. Draper laughingly recalled he had his performance debut as a 5-year-old boy soprano for a Christmas Eve service in Memphis.
A fortuitous moment for the chorus came when Draper and Brunner first met. Brunner was renting a house, and his landlord hired Draper to come work on the boiler. Brunner had previously mentioned to his landlord that he had a background in music, making it clear that he did not want him to pass on the information, as he was looking to retire quietly in Taos. Brunner’s landlord blew his cover. Draper invited Brunner to lunch and one thing naturally led to another. Brunner eventually joined the Taos Community Chorus, first as a singer and then as its conductor.
This was a significant moment for the chorus because Brunner brings with him a wealth of experience in conducting. He majored in organ and choral conducting at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey. The school is the principal choral ensemble for the New York Philharmonic which gave Brunner direct experience working under the great conductors: Leonard Bernstein, Leopold Stokowski, Herbert von Karajan, Eugene Ormandy, William Steinberg and Robert Shaw. Brunner later founded the chorus for the Colorado Music Festival and worked with choruses for the Boulder Bach Festival, as well as maintaining a large voice studio. In addition to serving as conductor and artistic director for the Taos Community Chorus, Brunner is director of music at St. James Episcopal Church in Taos.
“My feeling at the present time is the chorus still has remarkable staying power because of the sheer level of love and joy that people bring to it. That’s important for the chorus to convey to the audience. It’s consistent. You can tell by the nature of the applause and appreciation expressed at the concerts,” said Brunner.
For questions or more information about the concerts or to find out how to become a member of TCC for the fall 2019 season and beyond, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Erick Brunner, Conductor ~ Martha Shepp, Accompanist
Triumphal March Aida ~ Giuseppe Verdi
Bridal Chorus Lohengrin ~ Richard Wagner
“Au Fond du Temple Saint” The Pearl Fishers ~ Georges Bizet
Villagers’ Chorus Guillaume Tell ~ Gioachino Rossini
Chorus of Hebrew Slaves Nabucco ~ Giuseppe Verdi
Witches’ Chorus Macbeth ~ Giuseppe Verdi
Brindisi La Traviata ~ Giuseppe Verdi
Anvil Chorus II Trovatore ~ Giuseppe Verdi
Final Trio der Rosenkavalier ~ Richard Strauss
Easter Hymn Cavaleria Rusticana ~ Pietro Mascagni
Jennifer Perez ~ soprano; Hannah Stephens ~ soprano; Elizabeth Calvert ~ mezzo soprano; Andre Garcia-Nuthmann ~ tenor; Mark Jackson ~ baritone Mary Gates, organ
Alto Jane Ayles, Debbie Branom, Linda Fair, Kate Harris, Jean Kenin, Bette Myerson, Justine Nauman-Greif, Nancy Nesbit, Randy Thorne, Caryle Zorumski
Tenor Bob Draper, Michael Hatlee, Mark Jackson, Bob Krongaard, Jim Schultz
Bass Sidney Bender, Kay Fancher, David Goodman, Val Landi, Jim Ludden, Mose Renault, Paul Richard, David Schultz, Lee Stuart, Alex Sullivan, Paul Templet, Bill Waugh
AVIS VERMILYE (1938-2018)
PETER CHINNI (1928-2019)
Avis Vermilye was a witty, smart, caring and talented woman. Her wry sense of humor could catch you off guard and make you laugh out loud. Yet, she was a quiet person who was drawn into the contemplative life, focusing on her own personal and spiritual growth. Avis’s life took her in many directions, including musical theatre, television commercial production and state arts administration. Avis also was an artist and, in her later years, devoted her creative energy to collage and mixed media artwork.
Avis was a Quaker and was actively involved in various Quaker organizations over the years, including one in Pennsylvania where she was a student and then a staff member, leading retreats and teaching journal writing, and another in South Africa where she and her husband, Dyckman Vermilye, lived for two years. She spent much of her time writing and publishing articles about her spiritual journey and continued to do so when she and Dyckman returned to the U.S. and put down roots in New Mexico.
Avis spent much of her life as a volunteer and, once in Taos, volunteered at Holy Cross Hospital Emergency Room, El Pueblito Methodist Church’s Shared Table and Taos Retirement Village in support of its hospice program. In addition, Avis spent many of her volunteer years singing with Taos Community Chorus. She loved and supported it in many ways and was a strong, integral and inspiring presence in the chorus’s alto section.
If there’s one shining example of Avis’s charm and wit, it’s the phrase she commonly used with friends who stopped by to see her: “Thank you for coming and thank you for going.” That was Avis. Her devotion, strength, purpose and creativity will not be forgotten.
Peter Chinni was both an artist and a singer and loved to engage in discussions about music, art, his life in Italy as an artist, his daughters, his upbringing and all the different teachers he had as a singer and an artist, both in Italy and the U.S. When, as a young man in Europe, Peter decided that he needed to make a choice between being an opera singer and being an artist, he chose being an artist because he was so shy about performing as a singer. Apparently, Peter didn’t regret that decision because he was able to fulfill his love of singing as he got older and became more successful as an artist. Peter even made a CD of his favorite songs and arias, with the help and coaching of Mark Jackson, his voice teacher for many years. That effort took three months of intense work, and Peter was very proud of the resulting CD, which he shared with his family and many friends.
As Peter got older his singing only got better, and he was always singing at one church or another in the community. Peter would plan recitals and ask Mark and others to sing duets with him. Peter’s love for singing was just one element in his amazingly rich and full life. His output of sculpture and art was non-stop, and his creativity knew no boundaries. His involvement with Taos Community Chorus was always a source of pride for him. He loved big choral works and knew many of them by heart. It seemed that Peter was always welcoming to new people who joined the chorus and was willing to help them in any way he could. As a result, Peter helped create and foster the community that the chorus continues to strive to maintain. He will always be a true Taos treasure.
A Look Back
by Anna Mae Patterson
What do a woodworker, a secretary, a government employee, an artist, a midwife, a plumber, a teacher, a priest, an actress-and many others-have in common? Singing! These volunteers joined their individual voices together to learn, practice, practice, practice, and perform beautiful and uplifting choral music. This is the Taos Community Chorus.
TCC grew from a small group of women and men who loved to do musical theater and madrigals and choral singing in the late 70’s-early 80s: West Side Story; Guys and Dolls; Godspell; Fiddler on the Roof; Fantastiks; Amahl & The Night Visitors.
Soon Susan Berman and a group of musicians formed the Taos Community Orchestra. They invited singers to join them. The partnership between the Taos Community Orchestra and Chorus lasted more than 30 vears. I will never forget our Concertmaster Tom coming with his violin and music-the only possessions he saved from his home burned to the ground in the Los Alamos wildfire—to play the fall concerts in Taos.
There have been as few as 20 members and as many as 100 singers in one season. Usually two seasons: Fall (Sept-December) and Spring (Jan-May.) Singers learn many languages for the variety of music sung: classical, folk, world, popular, musicals.
There are legends here too: Kip Pond, accompanist, for two decades; Anne Martin who conducted both groups; Betsy Shauer who drove from Alamosa, Colorado every week for two years to lead the Chorus; Bob Draper, who has 63 seasons of singing or conducting TCC—the record; and Lynn Copeland, a soprano who also led the Presbyterian Church choir and who stepped in two weeks or so before one seasons concerts began and ably led our performances.
Individual dues, business sponsorships, generous individuals and grants from the New Mexico Arts and private foundations have provided the money forTCC, a 501c3, organization. TCC budgets are very modest; every penny is used carefully!
Over the years TCC has performed as far from Taos as Clayton, Raton and Mora in New Mexico, and Alamosa in Colorado. Frequent venues have been Dixon, Arroyo Seco, Angel Fire, Red River and Taos.
Ask any singer and you will hear his/her indelible memories of joy, tears and delight through difficult and deeply meaningful performances!
Here’s to another 40 years!
TCC Board Members
Debbie Branom, President; Jane Ayles, Vice President; Suzannah Walker, Secretary; Randy Thorne, Treasurer; At Large: Kate Harris, Bob Krongaard, Jim Ludden, Lee Stuart