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Out & About: Choral program raising voices anew after hiatus

  • Annie Arrington is the new interim choral director of the community chorus at the Upper Valley Music Center in Lebanon. (Upper Valley Music Center photograph) Courtesy photograph—Courtesy photograph

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 12/4/2022 12:08:51 AM
Modified: 12/4/2022 12:08:28 AM

Beginners welcome. Very welcome.

That’s one of the themes of the Upper Valley Music Center’s relaunched Choral Singing program, which will be led by new interim choral director Annie Arrington.

“I love working with the average singer, someone who just loves to sing,” Arrington said. “If you can talk, you can sing, and I can teach you how.”

The choral program was previously led by Patricia Norton, who relocated to Burlington at the end of the last school year. The community chorus, known as the Juneberry Community Chorus, had been on hiatus since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. While there had been online programs and occasional outdoor meet-ups, the chorus as it was has not been active for the last few years. After Norton announced her intentions to leave, Upper Valley Music Center leadership asked Juneberry members if they were interested in keeping it going, said Erin Jenkins Smith, assistant director of the Lebanon-based nonprofit organization.

“Everybody was really positive about continuing the chorus and the value of having a non-audition chorus that’s open to all levels,” Smith said. Before the pandemic, around 80 people were part of the chorus.

A search committee that included former members was formed and a job listing was posted in June.

“We have been sitting, waiting, hoping, looking,” Smith said.

Arrington came across the job listing when she and her family moved to Lebanon in August from Washington state. Her husband took a travel job in the emergency department at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. After they arrived, Arrington did what she normally does when they land in a new community — look for choruses to join. She came across the Choral Arts Foundation of the Upper Valley’s website.

“I was astounded. Barely do I find one in an area where I live, never mind 30,” Arrington said. “I love that people appreciate this art and how important and how connecting it is.”

She also came across the job posting and was intrigued. Arrington studied music education at Boise State University in Idaho and after graduating taught high school chorus for a few years before taking some time off to raise her children, who are 7, 11 and 14. She has also directed church choirs, among other musical endeavors.

“Annie is so energetic and enthusiastic and is really passionate about working with beginner singers,” Smith said. “She really has the things we were looking for.”

Arrington, 43, has taken the job on a yearlong, interim basis because she is not sure what will happen with her husband’s job. However, the family has fallen in love with the Upper Valley and hopes to stay longer.

“It’s really remarkable, the saturation of the arts,” Arrington said, adding that some other places she has lived have treated the arts as more of an afterthought. “This community has embraced it as part of living, as part of humanity. It’s made it a community-oriented place to be.”

Prospective chorus members will have a chance to meet Arrington at two free choral signing celebrations this month at the music center. The first takes place from 9:30 to 10:45 a.m. this Tuesday, and the second is from 6 to 7:15 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 13. Registration is encouraged, but not required, at uvmusic.org. Beginning Tuesday, Jan. 17, Arrington will lead a 16-week choral singing class. The cost is $175 and scholarships are available. The course is open to teens and adults, and registration is required.

“Given that its been now almost three years since we’ve had a chorus singing together in person, we’re launching with a class rather than a full chorus,” Smith said.

One of the aspects of the job Arrington is most excited about is that the group is made up of people of all ages.

“It’s very fascinating to watch a multigenerational group dissect a piece,” she said. People can think about how a certain piece may mean different things for them depending on what stage they are in life and find common ground. “There’s so much we can learn from singing.”

She encouraged anyone who has ever had any interest in singing to consider joining.

“I think that singing should be for personal expression and connection, and not to impress people. We will work for beautiful art, but we will do it for the sake of our own experience and lifting others,” Arrington said. “I always say to think ‘express’ not ‘impress’ when you open your mouth. It makes the whole experience better.”

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.


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