New leader enlivens the Bennington Choral Society

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BENNINGTON -- After 38 years under the direction of Edwin Lawrence, who recently retired, the Bennington County Choral Society has begun a new season of song and community with some fresh faces in its ranks, most notably its new director, Cailin Marcel Manson.

An accomplished singer in his own right, Manson started his music career at Temple University in Philadelphia, his home town, where he went on to found the Germantown Institute for the Vocal Arts and the Germantown Concert Chorus. He also earned a master's degree in opera and orchestral conducting at Universitat Mozarteum Salzburg, one of Europe's most prestigious music universities, in Salzburg, Austria -- the hometown of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Manson has also toured the world as an operatic soloist, performing across Asia and Europe in hallowed venues like Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

He stepped out of the spotlight as a performer around 2008, he said, and since then he has shifted his focus to conducting. While he studied orchestral conducting, his background as a vocalist has drawn him into the world of choral conducting, especially with community choruses.

In 2013, Manson moved to Vermont to begin his tenure as the director of the music department at The Putney School, an independent boarding and day school in Putney. Now entering his second school year in the position, Manson says he has enjoyed overseeing the school's broad range of musical offerings, which includes instruction in afro-cuban drumming and traditional celtic music along with jazz, choir and orchestra. He also serves as the director of the school's community orchestra, which includes Putney students, faculty, staff,and members of the local Windham County community.

"It's wonderful to take the borders off of the school's endeavor," Manson said, "and it's a good symphony orchestra size now -- we have about 40 players. We're doing pretty major symphonic repertoire there, and the choir is doing major choir repertoire."

After Lawrence's departure at the end of last season, the Bennington County Choral Society began searching for his replacement over the summer and eventually chose Manson from a field of 12 candidates.

As the current president and a 38-year member of the choral society, Linda Putney said the change has been exciting so far.

"All of [Manson's] references said that he has an incredible energy, and it's true. You wonder where he gets it all," she said. "He has an incredible way of explaining how he wants us to sound and how to get that sound. He know what he wants to get from us -- of course Ed did too -- and that's the sign of a good director."

Linda Putney also said that Manson's energy and humor have made rehearsals enjoyable for the chorus, and the time seems to pass quickly.

"The rehearsals have been very energetic and thrilling," Manson said. "Some of that is me, but a lot of that is the excitement that the singers are bringing in. They're really, really eager, which is great. And for me, having about an hour commute from Putney to come do it, it's a good shot in the arm to have so much enthusiasm in the rehearsals."

Manson made his Bennington debut in August when the chorus sang the national anthem at the Bennington Battle Day Parade, and he's now working with the chorus to prepare for their first major concert in December.

"The theme is the majesty of music, and it's a collection of pieces in either English or Latin (although we do have one piece that is in Church Slavonic) that discuss glory or majesty or any of those terms, in various contexts," Manson explained.

The program will include two of Handel's coronation anthems, which were composed for the 1727 crowning of England's King George II and Queen Caroline, and other works by American composer Dominick Argento and British composers Ralph Vaughan Williams and John Rutter.

Putney and Manson both said they're excited that the first few rehearsals have attracted about 70 singers, including at least 10 who are new to the group. With Manson at the helm, the chorus has been brainstorming some new ideas, like expanding to new venues and collaborating with other choruses in the area and beyond.

They also plan to hold the second performance of "The Majesty of Music" at St. James Episcopal Church in Arlington, Putney explained.

"We are a Bennington County Choral Society, so we want to sing not only in Bennington but also in other parts of the county," Putney said. "We hope by singing there we will also draw other singers from the county."

If you go ...

What: Bennington County Choral Society, rehearsing for ‘The Majesty of Music' on Dec. 6 at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Bennington, and on Dec. 7 at St. James' Episcopal Church in Arlington.

Pieces include the ‘Coronation Anthems of Handel,' and Ralph Vaughan Williams' ‘Serenade to Music,' three different versions of hymns of glory: Dominick Argento's ‘Gloria,' from his opera ‘The Masque of Angels,' ‘Svete tihiy' (or ‘gladsome light'), an Eastern Orthodox all-night vigil liturgy, and ‘Gloria' by John Rutter.

Open to all ages and singing abilities -- auditions are not required

When: Weekly Monday evening rehearsals

Where: Second Congregational Church, 115 Hillside St. Bennington

Information: (802) 442-8829, bccsmusic.wordpress.com


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