By Gwen Orel
When they sing, they feel free.
Laughter came from three long-time members of Oratorio Society of New Jersey as they talked about the challenge of learning Francis Poulenc’s “Stabat Mater” for OSNJ’s concert at the Church of the Immaculate Conception on Friday, April 1.
Poulenc’s piece was written in 1950 to commemorate the death of his friend Christian Bérard. OSNJ will also perform two Magnificats, by composers Antonio Vivaldi and Giovanni Pergolesi.
Singers Susan Ladov, Don Moore and Ernestine Galloway have each been with the choir more than 15 years.
The Poulenc is dissonant and difficult to learn, they all agreed. Ladov and Moore spoke on a conference call.
Moore, 78, a past president of OSNJ, said that the Poulenc is more challenging than works they’ve done in a while, and for the first time he’s been rehearsing at home with his piano. He and current president Ladov, 70, also mentioned such resources for choral singers as CyberBass.com.
OSNJ is an unusual chorus: anyone can join so long as they can read music. There are no auditions.
And yet, said the singers, the professionalism is very high.
It’s the challenge, in part, that keeps OSNJ members so loyal to the group.
Ladov has sung with the Oratorio Society for 25 years. Galloway said she has been with the group “since the ’70s.”
The Oratorio Society was founded in 1952; the current director is Sándor Szabó.
Moore called himself the “newbie,” with just 17 years.
The three Montclairites take music seriously.
“I love singing,” said Ladov. “I enjoy the whole process of preparing pieces.” She originally joined the group through a friend, she said.
Galloway said, “I sing for friends, and anyone who will listen.” She occasionally gives concerts in town. She joined OSNJ because, initially, she wanted to join a group she could walk to if she had to.
Moore, a retired professor of English, heard about OSNJ through another member.
“There’s the impression the music makes on choir people itself,” he said. “There’s an indelible aesthetic impression to be able to rehearse a piece for 10 or 12 weeks and then perform it.” Listening to a piece on the radio is not at all the same thing, he said.
The group generally rehearses once a week for 10 weeks, with longer rehearsals with the orchestra and soloists the week before the concert. The soloists and orchestra are professionals.
EXPANDING SOCIAL LIFE
Ladov, who is on the board of Aging in Montclair (AIM), a not-for-profit organization that advocates for Montclair’s senior residents, said that singing with OSNJ connects to some of the issues that AIM talks about: “Staying connected. Developing new social networks. My social life has expanded through things like OSNJ and AIM. Keeping connected is always important, but especially as we get older.”
You don’t have to be Christian to connect to the pieces based on Christian liturgy, she said: “There’s something transcendent about the beauty, the feeling and emotion conveyed in the pieces.”
For Moore, who is a Christian, singing works that express his beliefs becomes “an exhilarating spiritual experience. It’s jubilation.”
Galloway also feels uplifted in the group: “When we’re doing work with the choral group, the magnitude of the music that we’ve done, it’s an uplifting feeling. It’s very freeing,” she said.
Getting to the performance requires hard work. But it’s worth it in the end.
Ladov said she that while she liked learning some pieces more than others, “if the performance goes well there’s a certain satisfaction in it. I always try to find something to connect with in the music.”
Moore said, “I feel like we’re fighting for a cause. We’re fighting for these wonderful choral classics.”
Galloway used to sing in her church choir. She no longer does, but thinks that even if she did, she’d stay with OSNJ because “even though it’s amateur, it feels professional to me.”
As for that Poulenc?
Galloway said, “It’s interesting. I think initially we didn’t like it. It’s very difficult. But now I think it’s growing on us, and it sounds very exciting.”
An earlier version of this article misstated how often OSNJ rehearses.
When: Saturday, April 1, 8 p.m.
Where: Church of the Immaculate Conception, 30 North Fullerton Ave.
Music by French and Italian composers, on the theme of the Biblical Mary