Charles River Chorale rebuilds after COVID
By Grace Allen
No doubt about it, the pandemic decimated community choruses. But a local group, the Charles River Chorale, is looking towards the future and actively recruiting new members, banking on the hope that COVID is finally in the rearview mirror.
The non-audition chorale group is in the midst of open rehearsals for its 39th season. The two remaining open rehearsals will take place on Oct. 4 and Oct. 11 from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the Church of Christ, 142 Exchange St., Millis.
Anne McKee has been singing with the Charles River Chorale for close to a decade. The Norfolk resident, an at-large board member for the organization, says prospective members don’t have to be professional singers or even have performed with a chorus in the past to join.
“If you enjoy any kind of music, singing in a group is just fun,” she said. “It’s different than singing alone. The beauty of music is when you put voices together, because the sound that comes out is so joyous. And when we’re together and singing, any stress goes out the window.”
The group is under the direction of Ashley F. Nelson-One schuk, a music professional in her 7th year with the Charles River Chorale. She is also the choral director for Medway High School.
Nelson-Oneschuk says the pandemic put a lot of things in perspective for music educators.
“More than ever I am focused on cultivating a joyful community first, with excellent musical experiences as the vessel to achieve this,” she said.
During the height of the pandemic, the Charles River Chorale met virtually. Through Zoom sessions, group members individually recorded themselves singing and then that music was combined electronically into full choral renderings for several virtual concerts. Not everyone was comfortable with the together-but-apart way of performing, however, and membership declined.
“The group that remained after the proverbial waters had receded represented what I felt was the heart and soul of the group—in musicality but more so in passion and dedication,” explained Nelson-Oneschuk.
Wrentham resident Brenda Trapani is entering her eighth season with the Charles River Chorale. She sang in high school choir and later participated in musical theatre. After a span of years without participating in any music groups, she decided to join the Charles River Chorale with a friend. Trapani says director Nelson-Oneschuk has cultivated an atmosphere of enthusiasm and a desire to improve among members.
“She’s a great leader, great teacher, and very patient,” said Trapani. “She instills in you a desire to practice your music in between rehearsals. She teaches breathing techniques which then help you to carry notes for longer. She’s an excellent choir director.”
Bob Archibald is the new chairperson for the Charles River Chorale. The Franklin resident joined in 2019 and says he was “smitten” with singing in a chorus again for the first time since high school. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, Archibald is confident in the future of the organization.
“I am immensely proud of Ashley, Greg Quilop (our outgoing chair), our Board, and all of our members for leading us through these past few years,” he said in an email. “My role as the incoming chairperson is to guide us through a rebuilding process that is already well underway. We look forward to welcoming back those who could not participate during the last few years. We have a wonderful group of singers who enjoy each other and love Ashley’s approach in guiding us to be our best.”
This past May, the remaining chorus members came together on stage for the first time in 2.5 years for a performance themed “Hope, Joy, and Friendship Move us Forward.” Rehearsals were conducted with safety in mind, said McKee, who noted that Nelson-Oneschuk employs COVID safety practices determined by the CDC and the Massachusetts Teachers Association.
Charles River Chorale members hail from several area communities, and they range in age from high school students to octogenarians. The group typically holds winter and spring concerts, with the next concert scheduled for Sunday, December 4 at 2 p.m. at Medway High School.
As the chorus is set to mark almost four decades of making music, the organization is poised to recover from the last few challenging seasons and emerge stronger than ever. Music, after all, can connect and bring people together, but most of us would agree that it’s much better in person.
“This coming year is set to be a rebirth,” said Nelson-Oneschuk. “We are thrilled to welcome back many former members ready to return, as well as many new faces whose choirs did not survive the pandemic, and others who want to find a new community and musical opportunity.”
The Charles River Chorale rehearses on Tuesday evenings from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the Church of Christ in Millis. Membership dues for the non-profit organization support operating costs. There are no dues for high school students, and scholarships based on need are available. There is also a separate children’s choir for children in Grades 2 through 6.
For more information about the organization and the upcoming open rehearsals, visit https://www.charlesriverchorale.com. Sponsorships and advertising opportunities are available