JANESVILLE—The Choral Union’s 138-year history is sometimes a bit intimidating for the group’s artistic director and conductor, Richard Severing.
He said he feels that way because of the responsibility to keep the group running for singers both now and in the future.
But his wife, Marie Severing, who is the Choral Union’s associate director, said she sees the organization’s historical perspective as “awesome.” She said she and Richard are both “honored” with being charged in maintaining the group’s existence.
“We do want to continue to see the rich choral tradition in the southern Wisconsin area,” Marie said. “At a time when commercial music is emphasized so greatly in our society, we’re bringing great classical work to the community.”
The Choral Union will connect to another performance from its history by mirroring a show from 1973 during its next performances Dec. 7-8 at Cargill United Methodist Church in Janesville.
Along with Gabriel Faure’s “Requiem,” the group will perform Howard Boatwright’s “Canticle of the Sun.” It was in 1973 that Boatwright’s wife, Helen, sang as a soprano soloist with Choral Union, the group said.
Marie Severing, 60, said she took classes from Helen, who died in 2010. The Boatwright family also has connections to Janesville through Helen’s sister, Ellie Gutmann.
But for the Severings to get what they needed to perform “Canticle of the Sun” they had to have some serendipitous help.
Marie, a vocal music teacher in the Watertown Unified School District, said that last year during parent-teacher conferences, she met with a woman who had picked up a program for an upcoming fall concert.
“And she said, ‘I see that you are a student of Helen Boatwright,’” Marie remembered. “She said, ‘Well, I want you to know that Helen Boatwright is my aunt.’”
Marie went on to tell the woman that Choral Union didn’t have the entire orchestration for “Canticle of the Sun.” It also didn’t have readable choral music. It only had pieces of what it needed because the full work had not been published.
So the woman put the Severings in touch with Howard and Helen’s daughter, who provided them a full version of the work.
“It’s very significant. No one else has access to that music,” Marie said. “It’s exciting, and we’re elated the Boatwright family was able to share it with us.”
While Marie appreciates Choral Union’s history and its current connections to its past, she also understands how her role is unique. She said she was the first woman to be hired as a conductor (another woman had joined for one year several years ago because of a sabbatical).
Marie said she is “amazed” she was hired because conductors are still predominantly men.
“I’m honored to be part of it,” she said. “Thrilled to be part of it.”
The Choral Union started at Milton College before moving to Janesville after the college closed in 1982.
Marie, who graduated from Milton College the year before it closed, said she hopes attendees might be inspired to join the Choral Union, which has never held auditions for participation. She also wants those in the crowd to enjoy the performances as much as she and Richard have enjoyed learning and preparing the music.
Richard, 75, wants one family in particular to see how the Choral Union’s preparation has paid off.
“We are hoping that perhaps some of the Boatwright family might even venture to the concert,” he said.