Plenty of folks remember the early days of the Hampshire Choral Society. Marietta Pritchard was too young to sing at its first concert in 1952, but spent a year with the group in 1958-9 under its first director, Henry Mishkin. She still recalls the dinginess of the rehearsal space, when HCS members numbered 52. Now the rehearsal space is far more comfortable and accommodating, which befits a vital chorus of 160 members.
Mary Cae Andrikidis, the group’s current president, has sung with HCS for two-thirds of its existence. “We feel having more members is better for sharing the wonderful experience,” she says of the organization’s growth under current director Allan Taylor. She is especially thrilled that the growth is as much musical as numerical.
“It’s phenomenal!” she exclaims. “I’ve performed under four conductors plus an interim conductor, and, to me, Allan is the ultimate. Each conductor had their own strengths and grew while they were with us, but Allan, more than anybody, has brought us to a wonderful place of pride and enjoyment. He has expectations of us that we have been meeting, and we hardly know that we’re working hard because he brings with him such a sense of humor and knowledge of music.”
As it has grown, HCS’ impact has spread far beyond the Pioneer Valley. Just last year, it gave the prestigious American premiere of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Cambridge Mass under the baton of the man who discovered and published the long hidden manuscript, Alan Tongue. The same season, it joined with the Pioneer Valley Symphony to present two major, extremely challenging works, Haydn’s Paukenmesse and Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast.
An auditioned group of singers of all ages, the Hampshire Choral Society rehearses every Tuesday night in the Northampton Senior Center. Its own orchestra, far from being a rag-tag affair, includes members of the Springfield and Pioneer Valley Symphony Orchestras. You can get a sense of the group’s evolution by visiting the Jones Library’s 60th anniversary exhibit of HCS memorabilia, currently on view in Amherst.
HCS expects a full house at its 60th anniversary all-Beethoven concert on May 19 at 3 p.m. in the UMass Fine Arts Center. Singers and orchestra will perform the short cantata “Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage” as well as the Mass in C, a chorus from The Ruins of Athens, and the Consecration of the House overture. For ticket outlets in South Hadley, Florence, and Northampton, see www.hampshirechoral.org/?page_id=217.