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Saturday night at the Sacramento Choral Society’s fundraising party “Raising a Voice for the Arts,” James McCormick, SCSO president, announced that Wells Fargo Bank would underwrite the cost of two concerts. One is the annual Home for the Holidays, which is now renamed The Wells Fargo Home for the Holidays. The second Wells Fargo sponsored concert will be given on Armed Forces Day on May 18, 2013, named “Lest We Forget,” and is to be dedicated to the armed forces.
Hundreds of choral supporters who had gathered at the Temporary Contemporary Art Gallery for the party enthusiastically welcomed the stunning development. While never operating in the red or even coming close to the financial woes that have harried other musical endeavors in the Sacramento region, the SCSO’s financial solvency has been due to massive unseen efforts by chorus volunteers and to assiduous shepherding by the director and the Board.
Concert expenses are not always covered by ticket sales. Plagued by this problem ever since the patronage system ended, classical performers have had to compete for venues with popular acts, and the competition drives the price up. Classical groups either are figuratively driven off the stage, or they find a creative way to bolster their income. Some have a roster of wealthy donors. While there are supporters of the arts in Sacramento that might fit into this category, there are many competing arts organizations, and all have to struggle with this scarcity of donations.
The local government funded arts commission has been tapped to fund some of the musical groups, but that money is extremely limited these days. During a span of time that saw the Sacramento Symphony, among others, close down due to lack of financial support, the SCSO has never had to depend solely on government funds to help it stay afloat. This is largely due to the efforts of its band of committed singers, who have been willing to call on family, friends and coworkers to buy tickets and make donations to keep the organization in the black.
SCSO has always had a unique approach to its operations. Since its inception, a Board of Directors supported by a Chorus Operations Team has governed the SCSO. The personnel of the chorus, all unpaid volunteers, take on the carefully organized duties of the operations team. These tasks ensure that rehearsals run smoothly, that performances happen without glitches, that members are kept informed of events, that publicity is timely, that a chorus history is maintained, and that funds are raised. Many chorus members volunteer professional caliber services. According to Diane McCormack, a long time member, and the SCSO’s volunteer graphic designer, the intricately designed operations team has functioned through several generations, as different chorus members have moved through roles in the organization. “It works like a finely tuned machine,” said chorus member Carol Newton Hawk.
Not only does the chorus sing and perform the tasks that keep the operations going without compensation, they have contributed to the financial health of the organization by paying dues, selling tickets, and raising funds in a yearly Singathon. The funds raised by the chorus members have been a significant part of the organization’s operating budget for the past 17 years.
Why might a group work so hard just so they can sing in the SCSO? The pleasure of being a part of an organization of this caliber is hard to describe. When the massed voices sing, the sound can vary from a rich thrilling thunder to a feathery caress, but it is always pure beauty. Imagine being inside it.
Director Don Kendrick is a demanding leader. Although there are nearly 200 singers in the organization, each has been carefully selected. He knows each voice, and he tolerates no slackers. The choristers know that under his direction they have become a choral group that is a credit to the region’s music scene and a musical ambassador from Sacramento to the world. They have together performed not only in Sacramento but also at the Disney Center, at Carnegie Hall, in Canada, in the great churches of Eastern Europe and on the Great Wall of China. They have brought gems of rarely performed music as well as better-known standards to the stages of the Sacramento region. The result is a group of loyal singers, who push themselves to learn complicated pieces, follow his directions with devotion and do everything in their collective power to make sure that the SCSO thrives.
In more recent years, corporate sponsors have begun to play a significant role in the SCSO’s financial floatability. American River Bank first came on the scene as a sponsor in 2006, and in 2011, SAFE Credit Union, as season sponsor has taken a major role in the support. The addition of the heavy hitter Wells Fargo Bank to its list of corporate sponsors puts this organization into a new league, a promotion that is long overdue.
Lovers of great music should be delighted by the concert programs for the coming season. They will include the high quality fare for which the SCSO is known- selections that showcase the beauty of the massive vocal ensemble. Listeners will be treated to the Faure Requiem and Vivaldi’s Gloria in a fall concert at Blessed Sacrament Cathedral. The Home for the Holidays concert will feature the Sacramento Children’s Chorus along with the adult chorus. Spirituals and folk songs will fill the bill in the spring concert at the cathedral, and the last concert of the season, dedicated to troops and veterans, will be Vaughan Williams Dona Nobis Pacem and a piece by contemporary American composer Randall Alan Bass, An American Celebration.
Tickets to the Wells Fargo sponsored concerts will be made available to low income families, identified through their participation in Title 1 schools. Season subscriptions and tickets for the other concerts will be available in the coming months. For more information, go to sacramentochoral.com.