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August 11, 2010

Volunteer Spotlight: UMS Choral Union

By Stephanie Normann

After moving to Ann Arbor three and a half years ago, one of my first orders of business was to go online to find a chorus that I could audition for. Being a classically-trained singer coming from Jacksonville, Florida and having sung with the Jacksonville Symphony Chorus throughout the three years I lived there, I knew choral music-making was a part of my life I wanted to continue in Ann Arbor. It seemed a logical first step to go to the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s website where I would presumably find audition information about their symphony chorus. Instead, I discovered that they did not have their own chorus, but performed choral pieces with a group called the UMS Choral Union. I decided to find out a little more about this chorus and discovered some particularly impressive facts: the group has a 132-year history, they won a Grammy Award in 2006, and they have 180 members. I had certainly found my chorus! An audition, countless Monday night rehearsals, and several incredibly memorable concert experiences later, singing with the UMS Choral Union has been everything and more that I hoped it would be!       

UMS Choral Union & Ann Arbor Symphony on Hill Auditorium stage performing Handel's Messiah

Throughout my time singing with the Choral Union, I have always been amazed by the incredible variety of backgrounds, ages, and even geographic locations of the people that make up this volunteer ensemble. I recall from this past winter, one of my fellow choristers arriving to the rehearsal following the gold medal hockey game of the Vancouver Winter Olympics wearing a Team Canada hockey jersey and moose antlers! Yes, we even have singers that come from Windsor, Ontario to be a part of this amazing group. The UMS Choral Union holds auditions for new singers twice a year – once in the spring and once in the fall, and everyone is welcome to audition.

Despite all the diverse interests of the singers in the Choral Union, there is one unifying quality that brings us all together, and makes us more than happy to donate our time: our love of singing and making music as an ensemble. And this is exactly what we do when we come together for our two and a half hour-long rehearsals every Monday night to prepare the, on average, four pieces of music we perform with either the DSO or A2SO throughout the year. These rehearsals are led by conductor Jerry Blackstone, who has been the director of the UMS Choral Union since 2004. In the upcoming 10/11 season, Jerry will be preparing us for performances of Handel’s Messiah (a Choral Union tradition!), Mahler’s Symphony No. 8, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, and Mahler’s Symphony No. 3.         

Alto section of the UMS Choral Union

I’ve had people ask me “why do you give so much of your time to the Choral Union when you don’t get paid?” Simple: singing under the baton of legendary conductor Sir Neville Marriner, looking out into a packed house from the stage of Hill Auditorium after an unforgettable performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 with the San Francisco Symphony, and getting a lump in my throat as I sing the final measures of the Alleluia in “Worthy is the Lamb” from Handel’s Messiah, even though I’ve sung it dozens of times before. These are all memories I have from the past year of singing with the UMS Choral Union; memories that are quite special to me…why would I not be involved in this incredible ensemble? I can hardly wait for the musical experiences ahead this season!


Stephanie is the Marketing Manager at UMS and has been with the organization for four seasons. She is also a member of the UMS Choral Union.