Providing beautiful choral music to the Princeton community has been the goal of Princeton Pro Musica for 33 years.
As its mission statement points out: “Princeton Pro Musica exists to perform choral masterworks and other works of the choral literature with energy, passion, and uncompromising artistic excellence. We believe in the power of choral music to uplift and transform our audiences, performers, and communities.”
Begun in 1979, the organization was founded by singer and choral conductor Frances Fowler Slade. At that time, a small singing group was sponsored by the YWCA, recalls Princeton resident and long-time Princeton Pro Musica singer Simon (Sy) Marchand. “I was a member of the Y group, which was the genesis of Princeton Pro Musica.”
Once under way, with approximately 30 singers, all amateurs but serious, experienced musicians from the Princeton area, the group rehearsed at the Y, notes Princeton Pro Musica executive director Mary Trigg. “They quickly outgrew the space, however. The group expanded so quickly under Ms. Slade’s leadership. Soon, there were 80 singers — there have never been fewer than that, and this season, we have 105.”
The singers, who range in age from 18 to 70-plus, are serious musicians, and many continue to study voice. They must audition every year, and the standards are very high. In addition to the amateur musicians, there is a core group of eight professional singers.
Many singers have been with the organization over time, including some for 20, even 30 years. Simon Marchand is an original member and continues to sing with the group. “The community did not have a real community chorus, and Princeton Pro Musica started off as a community creation and has retained that flavor. It is something Princeton can be proud of.
“Personally, I love the weekly rehearsals, when you can hear it all coming together, and hear the sounds that really transport you. The sound that is produced is like no musical instrument.”
The importance and enjoyment of the rehearsal to the musicians is emphasized again and again. Princeton resident Jan Johnson, former children’s librarian at the Princeton Public Library, has been a member of Princeton Pro Musica since its beginning, and she is also a member of the organization’s smaller Chamber Chorus.
“When I think of music, I can hear harmony, but I need to sing with other people because I can only sing one note at a time. I prefer choral singing because it’s like being on a team. One of the things that makes it so special is this group of people who have such a strong commitment, take the music very seriously, and work very hard. The rewards are commensurate with the effort.
“And, we provide high quality performances for the community. People don’t have to go to New York or Philadelphia to hear beautiful music.”
After a career in music and business in New York, executive director Mary Trigg has been singing with Princeton Pro Musica since 1998 (as did her father before her). She is proud of the quality of the performances the chorus brings to the Princeton area.
“These performances are experienced singers and the scope of musical works that this group has presented is impressive. The voice is the original instrument. The combined choral music is a unique combination of words and music, supported by instruments, and is unlike any other form of music.”
Princeton Pro Musica plans four concerts for the 2012-13 season by the full chorus, as well as a series of performances by the Chamber Chorus, consisting of 24 members who sing a cappella.
The full chorus will perform Mozart’s Requiem, K 626 and Bach’s O Jesu Christ meins Lebens Licht, BWV 118 at Richardson Auditorium on Sunday, October 28 at 3 p.m. Its 42nd performance of Handel’s Messiah — a holiday tradition — will be presented at Patriots’ Theater, Trenton War Memorial on December 16. Performances in 2013 will take place in March and May.
These and future performances will be under the leadership of the new artistic director Ryan Brandau, who recently joined the organization after Ms. Slade’s retirement.
“We had a national search for director, and considered 53 candidates,” says Ms. Trigg. “Ryan was an outstanding choice.”
Previously the artistic director of the Santa Clara Chorale in California and director of choral activities at Santa Clara University, Brandau has also worked with choirs at colleges and churches in Massachusetts and Connecticut. A Princeton University graduate, he has received graduate degrees from the University of Cambridge and the Yale School of Music.
“Both our board and our chorus believe Brandau possesses just the right mix of superior musicianship, organizational and community relations skills, experience programming from a diverse yet compelling repertoire, and a personal/professional philosophy compatible with Princeton Pro Musica’s mission,” says Jacques Lebel, immediate past president of Princeton Pro Musica’s Board of Trustees. He is an outstanding choice to become our new artistic director.”
Brandau looks forward to continuing to bring the combined voices of Princeton Pro Musica to area audiences. “It’s the magic of taking something that is ink on a page and transforming it into sound. For me, it’s a process of getting 100 people together and making that magic happen. I love it!”
Carolyn Landis, president of Princeton Pro Musica’s board of trustees and a singer with the group, looks forward to seeing the orginization thrive with the continued help of private donations, and funding from the Edward T. Cone Foundation, the New Jersey Cultural Trust, the Scheide Fund, and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State.
“In my role as president, the most gratifying aspect is to see how well established and strong Princeton Pro Musica is. This is so important. Of course, the music is primary. The real essence for me is the weekly reshearsal, the opportunity to be transported to a higher level. Within the greater Princeton community, we hope to inspire hundreds, even thousands, of people with our performances of traditional and contemporary classical chord music.”
For further information, call (609) 683-5122, or contact www.princetonpromusica.org.