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Blue Ridge Chorale brings Christmas cheer

The Blue Ridge Chorale has been blending voices and making melodious music around the Piedmont for 45 years.

“We started as the Culpeper-Piedmont Choral Society,” said chorale president Carolyn Szabad Osborne. “The name was changed to reflect the fact that we now serve a wider area with members not only from Culpeper, but also Rappahannock County, Madison, Orange and at times Fredericksburg and Fauquier County.”

This season's concert titled “Sing We Now of Christmas” will be performed at Prince Michel Vineyard Friday at 7 p.m. and Reynolds Memorial Baptist Church Sunday at 4 p.m.

Osborne said there is a core membership in the chorale of about 60, but 20-35 participate in any given season.

“Some people just sing in the spring season, others in the winter and some in both,' she said.

The group is non-affiliated and a not-for-profit community chorus and is always looking for new members, regardless of vocal expertise.

“We have a number of younger members in their 20s and 30s,” Osborne said. “But we also have people in their late 40s and mid-50s as well as retirees. We're trying to get a good range, but we particularly welcome younger people as they bring a new energy to the group.
“We don't hold auditions. We have people who have sung onstage and professionally and some who like to sing in the shower and every skill level in between. We don't exclude based on experience. We want people to feel welcomed, not awkward.”

Osborne said putting together a chorale is like building a bouquet.

“I have a very average voice, but I love to sing and I love music,” she said. “I once heard a chorale described as like constructing a floral bouquet. You need the roses and the orchids and the lilies – they are the strong singers, the centerpieces. But you also need the daises, the ferns and the baby's breath or the bouquet is not balanced.”

This season's concert, “Sing We Now of Christmas.” will draw on traditional French “Chants de Noel” and will feature selections from Baroque composer Marc Antoine Charpentier and the unique interpretation of Jackson Berkey of Mannheim Steamroller. Instrumentalists will add depth with drums, horns, violins, flutes and bells.

“Our director, Carole Tomhave, is very good at blending voices and making us sound good,” said Osborne. “She has a wonderful personality and strong artistic sense.
“It's difficult for someone who likes to sing to find somewhere to sing except in churches. Blue Ridge Chorale gives you a place to take the talent you have and put it in a context where you are surrounded by professionals and your voice can make a difference.”

Preparations for the current fall season started the last Monday in August. And the chorale has rehearsed every Monday evening since then. The group will take a break for the holidays and start rehearsals for the spring season Jan. 7.

“The spring season has a little more time built in because we are more likely to lose rehearsal time due to bad weather,” Osborne said.

The group is always on the lookout for places to perform.

“We want somewhere that has good acoustics and where people are comfortable with us and enjoy having us there,” Osborne said.

Although the chorale is a non-profit group, there are expenses.

“Chorale can be surprisingly costly,” said Osborne. “The singers aren't compensated, but the director and accompanists are. We have to buy music and sometimes pay to use a venue. Also, as with our winter program, we sometimes use instrumentalists who are not chorale members and they are paid. We do lots of fundraisers.”

Osborne acknowledged that singing onstage can be nerve-wracking.

“When you make the decision to put yourself out there in front of people and perform it creates some anxiety,” she said. “Carolyn is very good at calming you down.”

The Blue Ridge Chorale does not limit its performances to spring and fall seasons.

“We performed at the recent Community Thanksgiving and we also are usually at the reading of the Declaration of Independence (in front of the Culpeper County Courthouse) on July 4 and Remembrance Days in Culpeper,” Osborne said. “We like to do those events as sing-alongs. We try to get out into the community and do things that people will enjoy.”

The Blue Ridge Chorale at a glance
Who: Blue Ridge Chorale
What: “Sing We Now of Christmas” concert
When: Dec. 7 and 9
Tickets: 540-223-5462 or via website
Cost: Dec. 7 at 7 p.m. Prince Michel ($28 adults/$18 children – must be purchased in advance); Dec. 9 at Reynolds Memorial Church in Sperryville at 4 p.m. ($15 adults/ $5 children/ $35 family – advance or at door)
Website: www.brcsings.com
Facebook: The Blue Ridge Chorale of Culpeper
Director: Carole Tomhave, who has 28 years of professional music experience. Currently full-time minister of music at Unity of Fairfax Church in Oakton. Has sung with the Paul Hill Chorale and Washington Singers, the Washington Ballet, the National Symphony, the Harlem Dance Theatre and at the Kennedy Center, Wolftrap and Carnegie Hall.

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