Four decades after Eduardo Mata, Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s then-music director and conductor, requested the creation of a large-scale permanent vocal ensemble, the Dallas Symphony Chorus (DSC) is celebrating the beginning of its 40th season with a free concert at 2:30 p.m. on Oct. 8 at the Meyerson Symphony Center.
Since its first concert on Sept. 23, 1977 at the Music Hall at Fair Park, DSC has been the official vocal ensemble of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.
“No major symphony orchestra can forgo doing the great choral works. They are the things that people love and choral singing is tied closely to every major human celebration that we have: birth, death, mourning, rejoicing. All these things always involve the human voice in some meaningful way,” Joshua Habermann, DSC’s Chorus Director, said.
The all-volunteer chorus began with 100 members, but DSC now boasts 215 members. Auditions are held regularly and prospective singers must prepare a solo, demonstrate sight-reading capabilities and take a music theory test.
Melanie Gilmore, a 23-year member of the DSC and the chorus’ librarian, insists the audition is not as intimidating as it sounds.
“For most people, you don’t have to be a music professional necessarily, but you absolutely have to have a good foundation in music,” Gilmore said.
Chorus members commit to rehearsing every Monday evening as well as additional rehearsals with the DSO and a busy concert schedule. An appreciation of music is at the heart of a chorus member’s dedication.
“They want exposure to the great works of music, to the great works of literature because we are singing words. It’s different from our orchestral colleagues,” Habermann said. “We know that it improves our lives. It ennobles us. It puts us in touch with the beautiful in our world and reminds us of things that are greater than our everyday concerns.”
Working to create those great works of music is why Gilmore continues to sing with DSC.
“It’s just a love of music and the opportunity to work with this fabulous orchestra. I’m just in awe. It’s been 23 years and I still love watching the process unfold. It’s amazing to me,” Gilmore said.
As the chorus librarian, she works with the orchestra librarian, ensures the choral and orchestral scores match for rehearsals, distributes scores to all 215 members and she returns the music to the choral library after a concert series.
Her chorus librarian job comes with a fringe benefit: there’s a live feed into the choral library, allowing her to hear Jaap Van Zweden, the DSO’s music director, rehearse the orchestra.
“I love to listen to his rehearsals,” Gilmore said. “He can make something that sounds absolutely beautiful but with a little nuance of a crescendo here and a little bit more of détaché there, he makes it absolutely exquisite.”
Chorus members relish the social aspects of being a member. Deep friendships have formed and couples have married within the chorus.
“We sing at each other’s weddings. We sing at each other’s funerals,” Habermann said.
During life’s difficult moments, singing comforts.
“When you love it so much, it kind of feeds your soul,” Gilmore said.
Sharing the music with an audience is DSC’s greatest fulfillment. In additions to concerts in Dallas, DSC tours every four years. Shortly after Gilmore joined, DSC toured to Israel with performances in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
“It was very unusual to see guns in the audience because they are all required to serve in the military. But they were sitting in the front row, just enjoying the concert and clapping with their guns in their laps,” Gilmore said.
On another tour to Vienna, DSC’s performance was received with hushed awe.
“The Stephansdom was packed, completely packed, and when we finished and the sound just wafted away. And nobody said anything. Nobody did anything. Nobody moved. It was such a sacred moment,” Gilmore said.
During the summer of 2018, DSC will tour to Sweden, Finland and Estonia.
With 43 million Americans participating in choral music, the concert on Oct. 8 is as much about the future of choral music as it is about celebrating the heritage of DSC.
Booker T. Washington High School Choir, Carter High School Chorale and Plano West Choirs will sing with DSC for the concert.
“In my view, our mission is to nurture the next generation of choral musicians that are going to step into those chairs, who are going to be the next 40 million of us,” Habermann said.
The concert’s program includes Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms and Jake Runested’s Proud Music of the Storm, a 40th anniversary commission and world premiere. For Habermann, the concert anticipates a bright future.
“We think this can be the best volunteer chorus in the nation,” Habermann said. “I really believe that.”