Santa Fe Desert Chorale opens its season of themed programs
Santa Fe Desert Chorale has a new mascot. Soprano Kathleen Ritch, who has sung with the chorale since 2009, gave birth to a son, Andrew, barely six months ago. Andrew has already been on tour with the group. “He got his shots, and we put him on the bus,” Ritch said. He was eight weeks old. As summer began, before rehearsals started up, she was about to take a short trip to sing at the Oregon Bach Festival. Her husband would be traveling along to help take care of the baby. “He’s an engineer, but he appreciates music, and has been really supportive,” she said.
Ritch moved to Santa Fe in 2011, having fallen in love with the city after joining the chorale. She works as an announcer for Classical 95.5 KHFM Albuquerque as well as continuing to appear around the country as a soloist and ensemble member. A “mountaintop experience” for her was singing with the chorale at the American Choral Directors Association national convention in Salt Lake City last February. The group performed “Dancing the Mystery,” a program in which music director Joshua Habermann used excerpted poetry of the mystical poets Rumi and Hafiz, read by members of the chorale, in juxtaposition to musical selections that included everything from chants to gospel. “Choral directors are hard to impress,” she said. “They can be a little jaded. If they aren’t buying what you’re selling, they’ll just leave,” she said. “It was standing-room only, and everyone stayed. It was the trifecta; they were all touched by Josh’s programming, by the fact we had readings, and they allowed themselves to be swept up in the emotion of it.”
This summer, Ritch is looking forward to singing Herbert Howells’ Requiem and to the whole “Serenade to Music” concert. “I’m a huge Anglophile,” she said.
The singers who become the Desert Chorale every summer (and for a short period in December) also appear as soloists with orchestras, perform with other choruses around the country, work in the film industry, teach, compose, and conduct, among other activities. Still, according to Ritch, they manage to become a family because they are together for a special time in Santa Fe every year. “It’s rare for a group to offer a six-week engagement,” she said. “Most groups come together for seven to twenty days, and meet four or five times a year.” That makes for a lot of traveling.
George Case, tenor, has spent three summers with the chorale. He recently made a recording with the Skylark Vocal Ensemble in Boston. He is the director of choral activities at Boston Conservatory and also leads the Newburyport Choral Society, a volunteer group in northern Massachusetts. He holds doctoral and master’s degrees in conducting from the University of Michigan and a bachelor’s degree in vocal performance from Boston University.
Baritone Harris Ipock is the resident conductor of the Harvard Glee Club and teaches voice lessons at the university. Hearing Howell’s Requiem was a turning point in his life. “I was drawn to the harmonies — the beautiful mystery about them — and it was one of the pieces that made me a lifelong choral singer,” he said. This is his third summer season with Desert Chorale. He sings, along with other chorale members, in Conspirare, a group based in Austin.
Sarah Weiler, mezzo-soprano, has been with the group for eight years. “I still remember my first audition for Josh — he made it an unusually easy and calm process for an audition situation. At the first rehearsal I found myself surrounded by beautiful voices and the highest caliber of musicians — it was breathtaking. It was so joyful and meant so much to me that I couldn’t believe my ears.”
Weiler is a year-round Santa Fe resident. She performs with Santa Fe Repertory, in the Santa Fe Symphony Chorus, and is a Santa Fe Symphony Mentor in the public school system. She is also a Nia Technique brown-belt instructor at Studio Nia Santa Fe. “My experience as a local member of Desert Chorale is that I understand the power and connection that the people in this city feel toward the chorale in a way that is not possible for visitors to fully appreciate. Desert Chorale is really embedded in the community.”