'Bells are Ringing' for the Kansas City Women's Chorus

Quick, what’s the appropriate gift for a 10th anniversary? I’m not really sure either, but if you find out, perhaps you could bring it along with you to the Kansas City Women’s Chorus annual holiday concert Bells are Ringing. The show will be Dec. 12 and 13 at St. Francis Xavier Church in the South Plaza on the University of Missouri campus.

Actually, just your presence at the concert is sufficient to help one of our area’s finest vocal ensembles ring in its 10th year, performing its distinct variety of choral music. The group is partnering to support the Women’s Employment Network, a nonprofit organization that helps women achieve economic independence through sustained employment.

The Chorus has come a long way since it was founded in the fall of 1999 by Stephanie Henry, its first artistic director, and a group of very determined, hard-working women. Its debut performance came later that year, as featured guests at the Heartland Men’s Chorus annual holiday concert. This year’s holiday offering includes the Heartland Ringers — a handbell choir — and the introduction of the Treblemakers, a smaller choral ensemble.

Dr. Joseph Nadeau has been the Chorus’ artistic director since November 2008, and he is also the artistic director for the Heartland Men’s Chorus. He has been associated with the Kansas City Women’s Chorus (KCWC) since its inception. Camp recently sat down with Nadeau and several others involved in KCWC to talk about the Chorus’ history, its current status, and its future direction.

Nadeau begins by describing how KCWC came about: It all started after he and Stephanie Henry, both of whom had recently moved to Kansas City, met one another.

“She and a few other women had decided that they really wanted to get a women’s chorus together. … We decided, you know, it would be great to have a separate women’s voice and women’s chorus in Kansas City.” One of the first meetings about the subject was held in Nadeau’s living room.

Leigh Raymond, a Chorus member since 2005, talks about her reasons for joining. “Initially, it was just about joining anything; however, that quickly changed. … For me, the Chorus has actually become a second family in a sense — I sing with women I otherwise wouldn’t know or interact with. We have quite the continuum of ages in our group. We have quite the continuum of professions and musical ability.”

Though much of their membership identifies as lesbian, the Chorus is not an exclusively lesbian organization. A recent Monday evening rehearsal certainly made this point clear. Women of all ages and stations slipped through the doors, even one whose supportive husband sat waiting patiently at a side table filling in his Sudoku puzzles.

Fellowship and volunteerism are as much a part of joining the Chorus as singing. John Carey, KCWC’s executive director, says, “Part of joining is you have to say what you’d like to do besides singing. That’s kind of the way things happen in the Chorus … the leadership comes from within the Chorus itself.”

The experiences of Stacey Shumate, board vice president and alto section leader, underscore all of this.

“The way I found out about the Chorus — they were always doing the Brookside Art Fair across the street, selling brownies and water … and at these tables, they would always have a sign-up list.”

After joining, she “volunteered for committees, nothing really major — section leader and things like that, and then I was asked to be on the board.”

All of this volunteering and committee work has paid off for Shumate in other ways, too. “The last three jobs I’ve had [as a contract worker> were through a connection with the Women’s Chorus. So there are a lot of networking opportunities.”

Member Norma Elgin, aka “Decorative Della,” a character she will be performing for Bells are Ringing, joined the Chorus almost accidentally.

“I was at the Heartland Men’s Chorus [holiday concert">, and one of the members of the Kansas City Women’s Chorus sat in front of me, and they had a carol sing-along, and after that she turned around and said ‘You need to audition!’”

Elgin is also a member of the newly created Treblemakers.

“It’s a group from the Chorus of 13 women … and we assist with some of the music that’s in the Chorus. … But in addition, we do outreach. ” This included a Dec. 2 performance at Crown Center.

Nadeau adds, “Our accompanist Leslie [Maclean"> Pollock is the director of the Treblemakers, and they’re specifically designed for outreach.”

Aside from the Treblemakers, Nadeau says of Bells are Ringing, “We have everything from some very stunning, beautiful a cappella numbers to some really rousing pieces that include some handbells, which is The Heartland Ringers. …What I love about [KCWC"> is that other women’s choruses and girls’ choruses have a very lighter, higher sound, and this chorus has this amazing, rich, blended, more mature sound.”

The recent rehearsal reflected this — a version of “Ave Maria” displayed a warm, beautifully burnished, hauntingly beautiful quality, as did several other numbers.

So it’s clear that this holiday concert promises to be a success, but what does the future hold for KCWC? Big things, if the participants I spoke with have anything to do with it.

Leigh Raymond would like the Chorus to add a third annual concert to bolster the current holiday and spring offerings (next year’s spring concert, Belles of Broadway will present Broadway show tunes) and she hopes for “us moving … to a more static concert location and being less nomadic.”

Nadeau foresees in “the next five or 10 years that we would become more prominent in the Kansas City community.” This seems more than likely under Nadeau’s direction, as the Chorus’ membership has increased by triple-digit percentages since his tenure began last year.

On the development committee, Elgin looks for some sort of gala, perhaps in 2011, to showcase the Chorus.

“The exciting thing for me is that it’s growing,” she says. “It would be hard for me to be part of an organization that was stagnant.”

But perhaps executive director John Carey put it best: “I think [the Chorus"> has a very strong future. It is a body of music that nobody else is singing in this area, and there is a very big audience for it. … I think the future is very bright.”
For more information on the Kansas City Women’s Chorus, visit kcwomenschorus.org, or call the KCWC office at 816-822-2344.
For tickets to Bells are Ringing on December 12-13, visit boxofficetickets.com/kcwc (a small online service charge applies). Tickets are also available at the door for $15

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