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IF YOU BUILD IT, WILL THEY COME? New choir amazed by local interest

By Paul Horsley

If you want to start a new chorus in Kansas City, you’re going to need a solid concept, some chutzpah, and boundless optimism. Jackson Thomas brought all of those things when he formed KC VITAs Chamber Choir last year, a chorus of top-flight singers that, after an astonishingly successful debut last year, will open the Summer Music at the Cathedrals series on August 7th at Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral. (A slightly different program will precede it, on August 5th at Old Mission United Methodist Church). In a city that boasts more than a dozen well-established choirs, including some of national/international repute, you need to steer a clear course when asking a couple dozen singers to offer their services for free, at least initially.

“People told me it would be virtually impossible,” said the 24-year-old native of Carrollton, Missouri, who graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2014 and is doing graduate work at the University of Kansas. (He is also Director of Choral Music at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church.) But rather than being daunted by the notion of settling in one of the most chorus-rich cities in America, he was inspired by it. “I wanted to come to Kansas City because I knew it was a mecca for the arts.”

Jackson rehearses KC VITAs Chamber Choir / All photos courtesy KC VITAs
Jackson Thomas rehearses KC VITAs Chamber Choir at St. Mary’s / All photos courtesy KC VITAs

He knew he needed a niche, and he knew exactly what he wanted to do. “I wanted to make sure it had a specific function,” said Jackson, who in addition to being a conductor and lyric tenor is also a composer with a lifelong commitment to contemporary music. His research led him to one conclusion: “What I saw was that Kansas City didn’t have a choral organization that was dedicated to doing just new vocal music.” Interestingly, it turns out that not just Kansas City but the whole of the United States is short on choral groups that foster new music. “So I said you know what? Let’s do this.”

It’s true that Our Town has been blessed with NewEar for nearly a quarter-century, but that group’s focus has always been on contemporary instrumental music. Choral music, as in many communities, has always been short on new music.

KC VITAs draws its talent from top local singers
KC VITAs draws its talent from top local singers

Nevertheless two dozen excellent singers showed up for the first rehearsal last summer, but no one knew what to expect at the choir’s initial 50-minute concert. “We printed 200 programs and thought maybe 50 people would show up, and that would be really good for our first go-around,” Jackson said. Instead, more than 400 people crowded into St. John’s United Methodist Church. “We were incredibly surprised.”

This year’s concert includes substantially more music: 13 choral works and four solo-vocal pieces, by composers from eight states. “We received more than 50 scores,” Jackson said. The quality was high, he added, because there are so many composers begging for good choirs to perform (and record) their works. “When it came down to creating a program it was incredibly hard for me to pick.”

Jackson Thomas, 24, is a proud native of Carrollton, MO
Jackson Thomas, 24, is a proud native of Carrollton, MO

KC VITAs is now officially a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. It stands for Kansas City Vibrating Internal Thyroarytenoids, a fancy name for your vocal cords. And although the concert consists entirely of new works, Jackson wants to emphasize that will not be 90 minutes of “crazy modern music.” “This is not avant-garde or weird music,” he said. “We want to make this accessible to regular concertgoers.”

KC VITAs performs on August 5th at Old Mission Church and on August 7th at Grace & Holy Trinity. Both concerts are free and open to the public. For more information go to kcvitas.org.

To reach Paul Horsley, performing arts editor, send an email to paul@kcindependent.com or find him on Facebook (paul.horsley.501) or Twitter (@phorsleycritic).

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KCVITAs Chamber Choir: 2016 Program

Some works are presented only on the Grace & Holy Trinity program, others only on the Old Mission Church program. These are indicated.

Hymn to the Resurrected – JONATHAN P. WHITE (b. 1994)

– World Premiere

– Greensburg, Pennsylvania

– Written for those students who passed away at Greensburg Salem High School

 

Al naharot Bavel – AARON BITTMAN (b. 1981)

– World Premiere

– Lincoln, Nebraska

– Hebrew Text: Psalm 137

 

summer sang in me – L.V. WOOD (b. 1982)

– World Premiere

– Olathe, Kansas

– Text by Edna St. Vincent Millay

 

god – RACHEL LANIK WHELAN (b. 1992)

– World Premiere

– Columbia, South Carolina

– Text by P.L. Thomas

 

More Than Words – STACY BUSCH (b. 1990)

– World Premiere

– Kansas City, Missouri

– Experimental

 

Joy – HANS BRIDGER HERUTH (b. 1997)

– Kansas Premiere

– Columbia, Missouri

– Text by Sara Teasdale

– 4-hand Piano

– Only at Old Mission Church

 

I it am – KURT KNECHT (b. 1971)

– Missouri Premiere

– Lincoln, Nebraska

– Text by Julian of Norwich

– Violin, Viola, Clarinet, Organ (John Schaefer)

– Only at Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral

 

The Serenity Prayer – JACK LANGDON (b. 1994)

– World Premiere

– Northfield, Minnesota

– Text by Reinhold Niebuhr

 

river – CHARLIE LEFTRIDGE (b. 1988)

– World Premiere

– Mankato, Minnesota

– Text by Charlie Leftridge

 

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SOLO WORKS:

 

Remember – BROCK CHART (b. 1991)

– Missouri Premiere

– Lawrence, Kansas

– Soprano Solo and Piano

 

Selections from once like a spark – DAVID ROSS LAWN (b. 1992)

– World Premiere

– Princeton, New Jersey / Scotland

– Text by E.E. Cummings

– Will be sung by Soprano Dr. Stella Roden (University of Central Missouri)

 

Moppet Songs – JASON BAHR (b. 1972)

– Kansas Premiere

– Fort Myers, Florida

– Text by Pamela Epeland and Marilyn Nelson

– Baritone and Piano

 

Selections from Under the Silver and Home Again – DAVID VON KAMPEN (b. 1986)

– Kansas and Missouri Premieres

– Lincoln, Nebraska

– Text by Walter de la Mare

– Baritone and Piano

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