Waukesha Choral Union celebrates 40th year
Brookfield resident serves as president; union holding auditions Aug. 26
The Waukesha Choral Union is celebrating its 40th season under that name but its history and value in the arts goes far beyond any number.
Newly appointed President and Brookfield resident Mary Stephani calls the union "Waukesha's best kept art secret."
The singing group originally started in 1937, when Carroll College student choruses invited community members to participate in the chorus for Handel's Messiah, a holiday tradition. The group went under the name Waukesha Choral Society.
In the 1960s, the group went under the moniker "Town & Gown" and additional concerts were added and performed. By 1964, that group virtually disappeared from records until 1974, when two Carroll College faculty members gave it another go.
A history on the group from 2009 explains that Charles Boyer and Mark Aamot, members of the music faculty, decided to create a community chorus again for Handel's Messiah and were not disappointed when 250 community members came to sing.
"Clearly, a void had been filled for many music lovers who were very eager to get involved in the reactivated group," the document reads.
Mark Aamot formed the Waukesha Choral Union officially in 1974 and served as artistic director until his retirement in 1997. Auditions for the choir began in 1978 and it became a nonprofit organization in 1981.
The choir plays a unique role in the community, consistently bringing classical pieces to a large choir and orchestra setting.
"We're very much about 'the 3 Bs'...not the Beatles, Bee Gees or Bieber, but Bach, Beethoven and Brahms," Stephani said. "Our best audience is one who appreciates all that unforgettable classical music provokes, or the audience who wants to learn more about timeless, beautiful choral works."
The choir consists of about 40 members for each performance semester. Students from Carroll University join the choir as part of the curriculum. Stephani said the group welcomes adults of all ages, but the current members typically range in age from 40s to upper 60s. Like most vocal ensembles, women outnumber men significantly.
"We have an extremely dedicated membership," Stephani said. "The names of two current singers appear in a 1981 WCU program. Six members have performed for over 20 years and another six for over 10 years."
This season is Stephani's fourth singing with the union after singing for more than 27 years with the Milwaukee Choristers. She also served as president for two years and put in 20 years of board and committee head participation.
"I re-wrote the Bylaws for the Choristers and was asked to do that for WCU as well," Stephani said. " Before I knew it, I found myself replacing our president of six terms, Tom Custis."
Beyond age, members differ greatly in profession, interests, and personal lives, but come together for their love of music.
"Members are lawyers, musicians, university professors, healthcare professionals, teachers, seamstresses, small business owners, accountants, retail service providers, the entire gamut," Stephani said. "The music brings us together and is our foundation; what we bring to the table and our unique personalities help to create the magic and keeps us coming back for more."
Members put on a minimum of four shows a year and rehearse weekly in Waukesha County. They audition and, if accepted, pay annual dues that go toward helping the choir survive.
"Groups such as ours struggle to survive, and do so largely based on sponsorship and donations," she said. "WCU has been blessed to have the financial and technical support of the Wisconsin Arts Board, the Arts Alliance of Waukesha County, Waukesha State Bank, the Bryant Foundation, Carroll University, and other long-standing financial donors, contributors and advertisers who supplement our ticket sales, fundraising activities, and dues payments."
Part of keeping low fees for members is to make sure the choir stays full. Stephani explained that in the early 2000s, the group had nearly 60 members but now, funding for the arts is down, causing membership to dip as well.
Stephani hopes that the 40th anniversary and upcoming auditions bring new energy to the group.
Auditions for this year's group are Monday. Singers can reserve their spot by calling (414) 297-9310 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Each singer meets with Artistic Director Ernie Brusubardis III to sing a song in their vocal range, run scales, and pick up harmonies in what Stephani calls a "simple and straightforward 10-minute audition."
The 40th anniversary of the Waukesha Choral Union will bring a "Season of Light" to Waukesha through choral works by Vivaldi and Haydn alongside modern works of John Rutter and Ola Gjeilo.
For more information on the Waukesha Choral Union, visit ChoralUnion.org.
Kaitlin Phillips of Waukesha NOW contributed to this article.
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