New Dominion Chorale History

     In 1991, a group of choral singers got together under the direction of noted composer, conductor, and bass-baritone Thomas Beveridge, to form the New Dominion Chorale. Now one of the largest choral groups in the area (if not the largest), NDC boasts 225 members and is widely regarded as one of the jewels of Washington's brilliant choral scene.

     Writing in the Washington Post about an NDC performance of the Messiah, critic Joseph McClellan used words like "opulent, precise, and powerful," noting that the sound was "smoothly balanced and integrated, with each section bringing a justly proportioned weight and color to the total effect." McClellan also praised the "benevolent dictatorship" of Artistic Director Beveridge. "You do not get this kind of result in a large chorus without hard work and firm, uncompromising leadership," he wrote.

     NDC is unique in many ways, starting with the fact that it is a singers' cooperative. With no office and no paid staff, it's run by a board of directors consisting solely of current members. The singers sell the tickets, oversee the finances, write grant proposals, operate the website, and perform the myriad tasks that keep an organization as large as this running smoothly.

     "We're thriving because we don't have paid staff," says former NDC president Joseph Condo. "All the money goes for production - for paying our soloists, our orchestra, and our artistic director. Members scour the area for grants, and individual singers contribute money as well. One year a member sold a piece of property and had an unexpected windfall, and she donated a substantial sum to the chorale."

     Given the stature of the chorale, many people are surprised to learn of its no-audition policy; anyone can sing with the chorus. Even so, critics have praised the ensemble for its vocal balance and the polish of its performances. In part, the high level of musicianship comes from an unspoken compact among members: "Learn your notes. And if you don't read music that well, practice at home until you know the piece cold."

     "All of us choral directors in town were kind of aghast at first when we heard about the no-audition policy," says Robert Shafer, artistic director of the City Choir of Washington. "All it takes is one loud, wobbly singer to ruin a work, but his groups really sound good. Tom is a fine singer himself, and he understands the voice. He knows how to help people."

     Members also take their responsibility to the community seriously. That is why they volunteer their time to sing in area retirement and nursing homes. NDC also sponsors the "Summer Sings" series, a summer evening sing-along of the great chorale works to which all comers are invited.

     We're a serious organization, but people do laugh about funny things that happen from time to time. One near-disaster occurred during the premier performance of the Yizkor Requiem, a major work composed by our artistic director. A priest was supposed to do a reading from the Union Prayer Book for Jewish Worship, cued by a soft "Amen," sung by the chorus, but as the music faded away, Maestro Beveridge realized something was amiss. "When I turned to the priest to signal it was his turn to get up, he didn't respond. It wasn't because he was asleep. He was so genuinely moved by the music he was in a sort of trance. So I grabbed the score and read it myself."

     Members too are moved by the music, which is selected mainly from the classical choral canon. "Everything starts with the music," says former NDC president Rosemarie Hunziker. "The New Dominion Chorale is about making music accessible to everyone. First and foremost, it's for people who love to sing, but who, for the most part, have day jobs. The music is also accessible to audiences. Our ticket prices are low enough so that everybody can come -- from those who love choral works to those who will love it once they are exposed to it. It's a joy to belong."

New Dominion Chorale - PO Box 6691 - McLean, VA 22106
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