Hitting the high notes with the Sonoma Valley Chorale


Now nearly 100 members strong, The Sonoma Valley Chorale is battling competition like never before. Other groups have sprung up to challenge the more traditional stylings of the chorale, but so strong is the group’s fan base that current Director David Irvine isn’t worried.

“The Chorale is a beloved Sonoma institution with a rich history and an incredible amount of experience,” Irvine said. “We’ve done some truly challenging pieces throughout the years that have delighted both our singers and audience members.”

“We’re excited to move forward with more traditional chorale and choir music,” he said. “It’s music that our audiences love.”

Created in 1973 by long-time director Jim Griewe, a lifelong Sonoman and 1964 graduate of Sonoma Valley High School, the Chorale held its first performance in June of that year. Concerts followed regularly after that, typically every March, June and December, a schedule that is routinely followed to this day.

The seed for today’s chorale was planted when choirs from the Valley’s major churches came together to perform in a song fest. Each choir performed separately and then came together to sing as a group. The response to the combined choir was so overwhelming, and the group had so much fun, that the decision was made to continue and the Chorale was born as an ecumenical choir.

As the years progressed, the Chorale amassed some notable highlights including a visit from the famous composer and chorale director Jester Hairston, who worked with the group for a performance in March of 1987. During the Chorale’s second year, Maya Angelou came to emcee a concert, a magnificent experience according to Sally Hilliard, the Chorale administrator.

The Chorale has also gone on several tours including Europe in 1995, parts of the U.K. in 1998 and New England and Montreal in 2001. In early 2000, the group commissioned a piece by Gwyneth Walker, whom it had visited during the New England tour, entitled, “Come Life, Shaker Life.”

With an estimated 100 performances under its belt, today’s chorale is still going strong. “We’ve had a really great ride as a local choir and we intend to continue our success for many years to come,” said Irvine. “We’re beginning rehearsals for our holiday concert series in December and welcome new members who are looking to spread their wings musically.”

When inviting new members, Irvine is quick to point out that the chorale is a non-audition community chorus where no level of musicianship is necessary and all interested parties are welcome. One thing that is mandatory, however, is attendance at rehearsals, which run once a week when preparing for a concert.
Of special note, in support of National Music in Our Schools Month, the Chorale will not perform in March. Instead, members of the group will spend the months of January and February learning works by Puccini, which they will then perform throughout the Valley’s schools come March.

“We’ll probably do between 20 and 30 concerts in the schools with a goal of getting more kids interested in music,” said Irvine. “We feel that educating students on the value of music is pivotal to school success. We want to do our part to keep music alive for kids here in the Valley.”

How to join

Everybody, even the less musically inclined, are welcomed to join the Chorale. For non-singers, there are also opportunities to participate with the group’s affiliate, called simply “The League.” League members enjoy the concerts and the camaraderie of the Chorale and, while not perfomers, are an integral part of the group, volunteering to help with everything from set-up and ushering to ticketing and serving refreshments.

More information about either the Chorale or the League, contact David Irvine at 381.2541 or Sally Hilliard at 996.5334. Or visit the group’s web site at Sonomavalleychorale.org.
Dues are $70 per concert. Scholarships are available.


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