Goodbye, Symphonic Chorale. Meet the new Choral Artistry and what it plans for 2021-22.
It’s a whopper of a name: The Symphonic Chorale of Southwest Florida.
But for 10 years, that’s just what the professional chorus has called itself. Until now.
“It’s a mouthful,” admits chorus president Patricia “Pi” Rice. “And it’s hard to remember. It doesn’t have a hook.”
Chorus leaders hope to change that with a new focus and a shorter, catchier name: Choral Artistry.
That change was a long time coming, Rice says. But it wasn’t easy.
“It was a painful process,” she says. “Trying to rename yourself when you’re 10 years old is really hard. We went through many, many thoughts and ideas, and we landed on Choral Artistry.”
The rebranding coincides with a new website and the announcement of the chorus’s 11th annual season.
That season includes the annual “Summer Sing” and “Sing Out!” festivals and the Southwest Florida premiere of “Considering Matthew Shepard,” a Grammy-nominated oratorio based on the life and death of the Wyoming student murdered in a 1998 hate crime.
“I’m excited about this new season, especially coming out of the pandemic,” says artistic director Trent Brown. “I think there’s a big appetite for the arts and for people to be in-person and see and experience live music.”
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This is actually the chorus’s second name change. The group existed for five decades as the Southwest Florida Symphony Chorus. Then it split from the Fort Myers orchestra in 2011 and renamed itself the Symphonic Chorale of Southwest Florida.
Now the chorus has outgrown that name, too, Brown says.
For one thing, they sing a lot more than just symphonic music. They perform everything from modern American composers to a cappella songs to Latin American works.
There’s a lot more variety onstage than just classical music, Rice says. “Trent is famous for saying at our concerts, ‘If you don’t like what you’re hearing, just wait five minutes and we’ll change it.'”
Brown wants to continue bringing that variety of programming to Southwest Florida.
“Symphonic chorale is not really what we’re programming anymore,” he says. “In order to bring the community some more diversity of repertoire, we really needed to get away from that.
“It doesn’t mean that we’re gonna stop doing symphonic repertoire. It just means that’s not going to be our entire identity.”
The new name also gives them more flexibility, he says. With “symphonic chorale,” audiences tend to expect the full chorus — as many as 70-75 people on stage at once, including a core of 12 paid, professional singers (the rest are volunteers).
But not all of their repertoire calls for that many singers, Brown says.
“Symphonic Chorale implies a certain sort of performance at every concert, and that’s part of what we do,” he says. “We do works with chorus and orchestra of a symphonic nature. But we also do a lot of other concerts that are not like that at all.”
On top of that, the new name gives the chorus more of its own identity, Brown says. Many other arts groups and businesses already have “Southwest Florida," "Fort Myers” or some other region in their names, and it’s easy to get lost in that ocean of similar-sounding organizations.
Another bonus: The chorus has been considering going on tour elsewhere in Florida and having a less regional name gives them more options.
“It doesn’t mean we’re going to stop doing concerts here,” Brown says. “It just means that we want to look a little bit bigger.”
The chorus has come a long way since leaving Southwest Florida Symphony, Rice says. At the time, they chose a name that closely identified them with the Fort Myers orchestra.
“Through growth and time … and expanding our own repertoire, we have really found our own legs as a completely separate entity,” Rice says. “It was time for us to take a hard look at how we named ourselves, how we branded ourselves, and how we reflected ourselves in the digital world.”
That change will help with fundraising, too, Brown says. People often donate to Southwest Florida Symphony and other arts organizations that work with the chorus, mistakenly thinking the money will also go to the chorus.
“While we will partner with symphonic organizations and opera and whatnot, we’re not supported by them or the university or anything," Brown says. "We’re our own corporate entity.”
Now, with their separate identity more apparent than ever, Brown says he looks forward to doing big concerts again under their new name.
Some arts organizations are starting back cautiously for their 2021-22 seasons and “dipping their toes in the water,” Brown says. Not Choral Artistry. They’re planning a full season with some exciting events.
“We’re going to jump all-in,” he says. “We’re gonna go big. We know that people want it, so we’re gonna find a way to make it happen.”
The season is technically their 11th, but Choral Artistry has dubbed it “10th Anniversary/Take 2.” That reflects the chorus’ scaled-down previous season, which nonetheless still featured three concerts.
“We’re going to celebrate having completed 10 years,” Brown says. “And certainly, as we start the 11th, looking back at the big challenge of that 10th season and all that we accomplished in it. So it’s a pretty exciting anniversary for us, for a lot of reasons.”
Here’s more about Choral Artistry’s 2021-22 season:
“Summer Sing” (Aug. 31 at Riverside Community Center, Fort Myers):
The chorus performs with other local singers at this annual event. All singers are invited to come and rehearse with the chorus and then perform for the audience.
“People can just show up for a night and sing with us,” Brown says.
This year’s "Summer Sing" will have a Christmas theme, he says. “No one got to have a proper Christmas with people. We’re gonna do the Christmas carols and we’re gonna maybe have some gift exchanges.”
Haydn’s “Creation” (Nov. 14 at Faith United Methodist Church in Fort Myers):
The composer’s 18th century oratorio celebrates the creation story from the Bible’s “Book of Genesis.”
“We’re going to do it in English,” Brown says, “and that’ll be a really big performance: Chorus and orchestra.”
“Sing Out!” (Jan. 28-29 at New Hope Presbyterian Church in Fort Myers):
The annual choral festival includes music workshops and a concert. Other Southwest Florida singers are invited to come and sing with the chorus.
This year, they’ll be performing Handel’s “Messiah,” Brown says. “That was the very first ‘Sing Out!’ that the organization did 10 years ago. So people can come and join on that.”
“Considering Matthew Shepard” (April 10 at Faith Presbyterian Church in Cape Coral):
This will be the Southwest Florida premiere of Craig Hella Johnson’s three-part oratorio about gay college student Matthew Shepard, who was beaten, tortured and left to die in a 1998 hate crime.
“The work is loosely modeled after a Bach passion,” Brown says. “It takes texts from Matthew Shepard’s journal, and it takes interviews from Matthew’s parents and some clippings from some news articles, as well, and uses that as the libretto to tell the story of Matthew’s life and his untimely death and the legacy he leaves.
“It’s a very, very powerful work, and one that I’m excited to lead for the first time in this area.”
— To learn more about Choral Artistry, call 560-5695 or visit the new website at choralartistry.org.
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