When Josephine Quinn moved from the Capital District to Indianapolis in the mid-1980s, she stopped singing.
Quinn started singing in junior high school and had belonged to a few choruses in the Albany area. When she moved to Schenectady in the early 1990s, she felt a pull to join a group again.
I needed to do this, she said.
She went to a Schenectady Choral Society concert and knew she had found a new home.
`I really liked what I heard,` she said, citing the group’s mix of modern and classical music. Quinn also liked that the society had a mix of male and female members.
Quinn was one of hundreds who joined the chorus over the years. On Friday, May 15, the group will celebrate its 75th anniversary with a 7 p.m. concert at the Eastern Parkway United Methodist Church in Schenectady.
Members recently put together a piece on the group’s background. The society got its start in 1933 when Rufus Wheeler, then director of music at Nott Terrace High School, formed the first mixed voice community choral group in the city. Many of the early members were Wheeler’s former students.
When Wheeler retired as music director in 1966, Don MacMillan came on board for a similarly long tenure, leading the chorus for almost 30 years. After a series of guest directors, John Malthouse took the helm from 1997 to 2003, when he was replaced by Betsy Lehmann.
Like Quinn, Lehmann heard the group in concert and was excited at the idea of being part of it.
Lehmann grew up in Ballston Spa and has master’s degrees in music history and conducting. She teaches at The College of Saint Rose and said music is vital to her.
`It’s sort of my life, and when I don’t have it in my life, it makes things harder,` she said.
She loves that people can express things through music that they can’t verbally or through other means. For example, she can’t paint, but she can make music.
`It’s a wonderful way to communicate,` she said.
That passion for music is what links the members of the choral society, who come from Albany, Schenectady, Montgomery and Saratoga counties.
`The only requirement is that you just love to make music,` Quinn said.
One way the society strives to spread that love is by inviting guest artists to work with it each season ` a practice that dates back to Wheeler.
`We feel strongly about exposing the community to as many live performances as possible,` Quinn said.
For the May 15 concert, the guest artist is the Schenectady High School Chamber Choir. The choral society frequently pairs with local schools, which Lehmann called a `two-way street.`
`Many of the guest artists later join us,` she said.
Getting members isn’t as easy as it once was, though. While the society grew to about 100 members after World War II, these days there are only about 20. Lehmann noted that there are several singing groups in the area that compete for talent, and people simply don’t have as much free time as they once did.
`People’s lives have become more complicated,` she said.
Quinn said the group hopes that the 75th anniversary concert will help spark some interest in the group, which practices once a week at Eastern Parkway United Methodist Church and stages a fall/winter concert and a spring concert.
Lehmann likes each performance to have a theme. The May 15 concert’s theme is love, blending sacred and secular songs. There will be selections from Mendelssohn, Brahms, Schubert, Bach and Gershwin, as well as Franz Lehr’s `Yours Is My Heart Alone.`
Lehmann said she tries not to repeat songs the group has performed, a task aided by the group’s library, which dates to its early days.
`We have a lot of music at our disposal,` she said.
Quinn noted that the group also has some astounding talent at its disposal. In addition to Lehmann, there is Polina DeCarlo, the group’s accompanist. A native of Belarus, DeCarlo She holds a master’s degree in piano performance from the Belarusian State Academy of Music.
`We’re very lucky to have such accomplished musicians,` Quinn said.
Lehmann encouraged other musicians to check out the group ` or any of the singing groups in the area.
`It’s a lot of fun,` she said.
Tickets for the May 15 concert are $11. Children under 10 are admitted free. The audience is invited to a reception following the concert. To reserve tickets, call 399-5427 or 372-7013.“