UMS Choral Union

Formed by a group of local university and townspeople who gathered together for the study of Handel’s Messiah, the UMS Choral Union has performed with many of the world’s distinguished orchestras and conductors in its 135-year history. First led by Professor Henry Simmons Frieze and conducted by Professor Calvin Cady, the group assumed the name The Choral Union. Since its first performance of Handel’s Messiah in December 1879, the oratorio has been performed by the UMS Choral Union in Ann Arbor annually. Based in Ann Arbor under the aegis of UMS, the 175-voice Choral Union is known for its definitive performances of large-scale works for chorus and orchestra. Eighteen years ago, the UMS Choral Union further enriched that tradition when it began appearing regularly with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO).

Led by Grammy Award-winning conductor and music director Jerry Blackstone, the UMS Choral Union was a participant chorus in a rare performance and recording of William Bolcom’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience in Hill Auditorium in April 2004 under the baton of Leonard Slatkin. Naxos released a three-disc set of this recording in October 2004, featuring the UMS Choral Union and U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance ensembles. The recording won four Grammy Awards in 2006, including “Best Choral Performance” and “Best Classical Album.” The recording was also selected as one of The New York Times “Best Classical Music CDs of 2004.”

Recent highlights of the UMS Choral Union’s schedule include a 2010 performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 (“Resurrection”) at Hill Auditorium with the San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas. To celebrate the 100th birthday of Hill Auditorium during the 2012-2013 season, the chorus joined forces with the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance Chamber Choir, University Choir, Orpheus Singers, and University Symphony Orchestra in a performance of the rarely heard Oresteian Trilogy by Darius Milhaud, conducted by Kenneth Kiesler. The performance was also recorded by Naxos for a forthcoming CD release. In May 2013, a small group of chorus members joined the Detroit Symphony and Leonard Slatkin in a performance of Ives’s Symphony No. 4 as part of Carnegie Hall’s Spring for Music festival in New York.

Conductor Jerry Blackstone shares a memory of the annual Handel’sMessiah performance:

Participation in the UMS Choral Union remains open to all students and adults by audition.

For more information about the UMS Choral Union, e-mail or call 734-763-8997.

  • Conductor Jerry Blackstone
  • Jerry Blackstone

    Grammy Award-winning conductor Jerry Blackstone is Director of Choirs and Chair of the Conducting Department at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance where he conducts the Chamber Choir, teaches conducting at the graduate and undergraduate levels, and administers a choral program of eleven choirs. In February 2006, he received two Grammy Awards (“Best Choral Performance” and “Best Classical Album”) as chorus master for the critically acclaimed Naxos recording of William Bolcom’s monumentalSongs of Innocence and of Experience.

    In 2006, the Chamber Choir performed by special invitation at the inaugural convention of the National Collegiate Choral Organization in San Antonio, and in 2003, the Chamber Choir presented three enthusiastically received performances in New York City at the National Convention of the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA). In addition to Professor Blackstone’s choral conducting work at the University, he has conducted operatic productions with the University of Michigan Opera Theatre, including productions of Janácek’s The Cunning Little Vixen and Johann Strauss’s Die Fledermaus.

    Professor Blackstone is considered one of the country’s leading conducting teachers, and his students have received first place awards and been finalists in both the graduate and undergraduate divisions of the ACDA biennial National Choral Conducting Awards competition.

    He has appeared as festival guest conductor and workshop presenter in thirty states as well as New Zealand, Hong Kong, and Australia. Guest appearances for 2008-09 include festivals and conference presentations in New Zealand, Hawaii, Texas, California, Indiana, Florida, Virginia, Idaho, Illinois, North Carolina, Montana, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Michigan.

    In 2004, Dr. Blackstone was named Conductor and Music Director of the University Musical Society Choral Union, a large community/university chorus that frequently appears with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and presents yearly performances of Handel’s Messiah and other major works for chorus and orchestra. In March 2008, he conducted the UMS Choral Union and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in a special performance of the Bach, St. Matthew Passion. Choirs prepared by Dr. Blackstone have appeared under the batons of Neeme Järvi, Leonard Slatkin, John Adams, Helmuth Rilling, James Conlon, Nicholas McGegan, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, Peter Oundjian, and Yitzak Perlman.

    As conductor of the University of Michigan Men’s Glee Club from 1988-2002, Professor Blackstone led the ensemble in performances at ACDA national and division conventions and on extensive concert tours throughout Australia, Eastern and Central Europe, Asia, South America, and the United States. The recently released UM Men’s Glee Club CD, I have had singing, is a retrospective of his tenure as conductor of the ensemble. Santa Barbara Music Publishing distributes Dr. Blackstone’s acclaimed educational video, Working with Male Voices and publishes the Jerry Blackstone Choral Series, a set of choral publications that presents works by several composers in a variety of musical styles.

    As a strong advocate for the training of young musicians, Professor Blackstone serves as Director of the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance’s summer programs for high school students and adults, and includes MPulse Ann Arbor, a series of music and performing arts camps for high school students from around the world held on the Ann Arbor campus. He also leads the Michigan Youth Ensembles Program, offering advanced instrumental and choral ensemble opportunities in Ann Arbor during the academic year for talented high school students.

    Prior to coming to the University of Michigan in 1988, Professor Blackstone served on the music faculties of Phillips University in Oklahoma, Westmont College in California, and Huntington College in Indiana.

  • Choral Union Auditions & Rehearsals
  • Auditions

    Open to singers of all ages, the 175-voice UMS Choral Union performs choral music of every genre in historic performance venues. Members of the UMS Choral Union believe in sharing the joy and hard work of musicmaking, a moving and memorable activity with rewards that last a lifetime.

    Audition Schedule:

    The next set of auditions for the 2014-2015 season will take place Monday, August 25, 2014 and Monday, September 6, 2014. Check back on this page for updates.

    Audition Content:

    The singer will perform a series of vocalization exercises to determine the range and color of the voice.

    Prepared solo
    The singer should select a composition in any language that best demonstrates the timbre of his/her instrument. The prepared work may be an aria, lieder, or excerpt—either solo or choral—from a major work, musical theatre or hymn. In the interest of time, you will most likely perform 16-20 measures of your piece. We advise you not to pick music that tests the limits of your range or vocal technique; rather, bring a work that you can sing confidently and expressively.

    The singer is given a short excerpt from a Bach Chorale, and is asked to sing their part while the other three parts are played by an accompanist.

    Planning for an audition:

    • Arrive at least ten minutes early in order to fill out the Audition Form.
    • Bring a copy of your prepared solo in the correct key for the accompanist. The accompanist is not expected to transpose.
    • Singers are notified of results after the completion of all auditions.

    To obtain information about chorus membership, auditions and scheduling, contact UMS Choral Union Manager Kathleen Operhall at or call 734.763.8997.

    Schedule of Rehearsals

    Download Rehearsal Schedule [PDF]

  • Performances

    Handel’s Messiah
    Hill Auditorium, Ann Arbor

    UMS Choral Union
    Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra
    Jerry Blackstone, conductor
    Brenda Rae, soprano
    David Trudgen, countertenor
    Benjamin Butterfield, tenor
    Timothy Mix, baritone
    Edward Parmentier, harpsichord

    Saturday, December 7, 2013, 8 pm
    Sunday, December 8, 2013, 2 pm


    Detroit Symphony Orchestra
    Orchestra Hall, Detroit
    Carmina Burana

    UMS Choral Union
    Detroit Symphony Orchestra
    Ann Arbor Youth Chorale
    Leonard Slatkin, conductor
    Kiera Duffy, soprano
    Nicholas Phan, tenor
    Hugh Russell, baritone

    Thursday, January 30, 2014, 7:30 pm
    Friday, January 31, 2014,  8 pm
    Saturday, February 1, 2014, 8 pm
    Sunday, February 2, 2014, 3 pm


    Hill Auditorium, Ann Arbor
    Brahms German Requiem

    UMS Choral Union
    Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra
    Jerry Blackstone, conductor
    Nadine Sierra, soprano
    John Relyea, bass

    Friday, April 4, 2014, 8 pm


    Detroit Symphony Orchestra
    Orchestra Hall, Detroit
    Mahler Symphony No. 3

    Women of the UMS Choral Union
    Elizabeth Bishop, mezzo-soprano
    Leonard Slatkin, conductor

    Friday, May 30, 2014, 8 pm
    Saturday, May 31, 2014, 8 pm

  • Summer Sings
  • Summer Sings

    Looking for some participatory musical entertainment this summer? The UMS Choral Union invites you to take part in its 19th season of SUMMER SINGS. All singers are invited to these popular choral reading sessions on Monday nights in July. Just come as you are to these no-audition, no-performance evenings of memorable music-making. As many as 300 singers from Southeast Michigan, Northern Ohio, and Canada have joined each session in singing through great choral repertoire with some of the nation’s most respected choral conductors and outstanding soloists.

    Admission to each session cost only $5.00, less than a ticket to the movies, and we’ll provided the musical scores for borrowing and refreshments. Please join us, and bring a friend, for any or all three sessions. Registration for each session begins at 6:30 pm and each “Summer Sings” begins at 7 pm.

    Summer 2014 Schedule

    Monday, June 16: Joseph Haydn’s Missa in tempore belli (“Paukenmesse”)
    Jerry Blackstone, conductor
    Director of Choral Activities, Professor and Chair of Conducting, University of Michigan
    Hill Auditorium (825 North University Avenue, Ann Arbor, MI 48109)

    Monday, July 21: Robert Ray’s Gospel Mass
    Eugene Rogers, conductor
    Associate Director of Choirs and Assistant Professor of Conducting, University of Michigan Conductor, University of Michigan Men’s Glee Club
    Walgreen Drama Center (1226 Murfin Avenue, Ann Arbor, MI 48109)

    Monday, July 28: John Rutter’s Requiem
    Sigrid Johnson, conductor
    Conductor and Artist in Residence at St. Olaf College
    Stamps Auditorium, Walgreen Drama Center (1226 Murfin Avenue, Ann Arbor, MI, 48109)