A legacy of voices raised in song

The Taos Community Chorus is shown in performance for a December 2012 concert at La Santisimas de Trinidad Church in Arroyo Seco. Courtesy photo

Taos Community Chorus (TCC) celebrates its 40th anniversary this season. Current conductor Erick Brunner and past conductor and current chorus member Bob Draper discussed the longevity of this Taos institution. From its origins as a small group of enthusiastic singers to its current incarnation as a robust community group, the chorus has had an interesting journey.

The Taos Community Chorus will perform "Opera Chorus Greatest Hits - Just for the Joy of it!" Sunday (May 12) at First Presbyterian Church, 215 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. The performance will be repeated Saturday and Sunday (May 18-19) at St. James Episcopal Church, 208 Camino de Santiago.

All three performances begin at 3 p.m. A reception follows the final performance on May 19. Concert tickets are $20, $15 for seniors and free for those 18 years and under.

The performances feature a variety of opera choruses by Pietro Mascagni, Gioachino Rossini, Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner, with some ensemble pieces interspersed throughout the program.

"TCC is dedicating its 40th anniversary spring season concerts to Avis Vermilye and Peter Chinni, both of whom were avid singers, dear friends and cherished members of Taos Community Chorus," a press release states. "In addition, TCC is celebrating the continued camaraderie, enthusiasm and dedication that its many, many singers have exhibited over the past 40 years to help make TCC the unique organization that it is."

Looking back

The way Draper recalls it, Bradford Morse was choir director at First Presbyterian Church when Draper moved here in the early 1970s. Morse conducted the "Messiah" twice and "Elijah" in the early 1970s and Draper sang with him. Then, the Taos Community Auditorium hosted a production of "West Side Story" in 1978, and a string of musicals followed. This inspired a group of singers to coalesce. About 20 other directors have followed since.

"Simultaneously, we started a little madrigal group," recalled Draper. Some of the early members in the group were Jean Kenin, Isabella Draper, John and Kathleen Kingslight and Richard and Cathy McCracken. Soon after, Susan Berman started the Taos Community Orchestra and the madrigal group's choral efforts grew. The two groups merged and became the Taos Community Orchestra and Chorus with Susan Berman conducting the orchestra and Bob Draper conducting the chorus.

Draper is a plumber by trade and the owner of Phoenix Mechanical. He has been steeped in music for his entire life. He sang in church and school while growing up, and continued to sing for his college's choir. He also took some coursework in musical conducting at Adam State University later in his life. Draper laughingly recalled he had his performance debut as a 5-year-old boy soprano for a Christmas Eve service in Memphis.

Looking ahead

A fortuitous moment for the chorus came when Draper and Brunner first met. Brunner was renting a house, and his landlord hired Draper to come work on the boiler. Brunner had previously mentioned to his landlord that he had a background in music, making it clear that he did not want him to pass on the information, as he was looking to retire quietly in Taos. Brunner's landlord blew his cover. Draper invited Brunner to lunch and one thing naturally led to another. Brunner eventually joined the Taos Community Chorus, first as a singer and then as its conductor.

This was a significant moment for the chorus because Brunner brings with him a wealth of experience in conducting. He majored in organ and choral conducting at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey. The school is the principal choral ensemble for the New York Philharmonic which gave Brunner direct experience working under the great conductors: Leonard Bernstein, Leopold Stokowski, Herbert von Karajan, Eugene Ormandy, William Steinberg and Robert Shaw. Brunner later founded the chorus for the Colorado Music Festival and worked with choruses for the Boulder Bach Festival, as well as maintaining a large voice studio. In addition to serving as conductor and artistic director for the Taos Community Chorus, Brunner is director of music at St. James Episcopal Church in Taos.

"My feeling at the present time is the chorus still has remarkable staying power because of the sheer level of love and joy that people bring to it. That's important for the chorus to convey to the audience. It's consistent. You can tell by the nature of the applause and appreciation expressed at the concerts," said Brunner.

For questions or more information about the concerts or to find out how to become a member of TCC for the fall 2019 season and beyond, email taoschorus@gmail.com.

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