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Cedar Rapids Concert Chorale celebrates 60 years during fall concert Friday

The Cedar Rapids Concert Chorale often joins Orchestra Iowa onstage for programming like this 2004 performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 at the Paramount Theatre in Cedar Rapids. Other orchestra collaborations in the current 2019-20 season began with the annual Brucemorchestra season opener on the front lawn at Brucemore mansion and the upcoming Holiday Spectacular at the Paramount. (The Gazette)
The Cedar Rapids Concert Chorale often joins Orchestra Iowa onstage for programming like this 2004 performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 at the Paramount Theatre in Cedar Rapids. Other orchestra collaborations in the current 2019-20 season began with the annual Brucemorchestra season opener on the front lawn at Brucemore mansion and the upcoming Holiday Spectacular at the Paramount. (The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Instead of blowing out 60 candles on Cedar Rapids Concert Chorale’s birthday cake Friday night (10/11), the 74-voice ensemble will sing through 60 years of history during its fall concert. The milestone event will begin at 7:30 p.m. at First Congregational Church, 361 17th St. SE.

After kicking around various ideas for marking the occasion, like focusing on the early years or recreating an early program, artistic director Gerry Kreitzer, 63, of Cedar Rapids, landed on an aha moment.

“It just came on me to do a piece from every director, and it wound up filling the program out completely,” he said. “It’s been a lot of fun.”

Kreitzer has enjoyed reaching out to past directors, including Allan Kellar, who is coming back from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area to conduct “The Blue Bird” from his tenure with the chorale in the 1970s.

The concert will begin with “Beautiful Savior,” performed under the baton of founder Torrence Carlson, and end with “Sing to the Lord a New Song” by celebrated local composer Jerry Owen, which was directed by the late Tom Lippert.

“It’s a fabulous, fabulous, big, big piece, and I thought it would be such a great concert closer,” Kreitzer said.

Naturally, he had to include a favorite piece he’s directed during his five seasons with the group, so he chose “Psalm 23” by award-winning composer Paul Basler. Other works range from Mozart, Brahms and French composer Gabriel Faure to Aaron Copland, Irving Berlin and Ralph Vaughan Williams.

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The chorale traces its origins to 1959, an outgrowth of the Civic Chorus that Carlson founded. His daughter, retired music teacher Becky Collier, 67, of Cedar Rapids, has been singing with the group for 43 years. She’s pleased to see her father’s legacy continuing.

“He touched so many lives with his music and his enthusiasm about music,” she said. “Any kind of rehearsal he would do was so exciting.”

She sang under her father’s direction at St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church, and even earlier at home.

“We’d have quintets going,” she said. “Mom (accompanist Ruth Carlson) would be at the piano, Dad would be singing, one sister played the violin, another sister played flute, and I played clarinet.”

When Collier moved back to Cedar Rapids after teaching in Muscatine for two years, she said she “just had to be in some kind of choir,” and a friend urged her to join Concert Chorale.

The group brings her “total enjoyment and relaxation,” she said. “We love singing, we love harmonizing, we love being around a lot of people, and there’s so many wonderful people in this choir that we just enjoy the socialization of the whole thing.”

Charter member Kaye Christ, 87, of Cedar Rapids, joined the Civic Chorus about two years before it transitioned into Cedar Rapids Concert Chorale.

“I have to sing,” she said. “Singing is what I do.”

She has taken the commitment so seriously that when she traveled to visit her children in Colorado, she made sure to return in time for rehearsal. “I think it’s important to be a faithful member,” she said.

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Along with the joy and satisfaction of making music with “other like-minded people,” director Kreitzer said the choir “enriches the artistic culture of the community, adding another genre of music-making to go along with our wonderful symphony and all the other choral groups in town.”

Building on the philosophy that only experienced singers would come to the group, he has done away with auditions, which he said can be nerve-racking and keep people away. The new model is working. The chorale has grown from 36 members when he arrived to 74 members, who rehearse from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays at First Lutheran Church, 1000 Third Ave. SE.

They perform about six concerts per season, and have even sung in New York’s Carnegie Hall in 2011 and with Barry Manilow in Cedar Rapids in 2016.

hat was a complete blast for our singers,” Kreitzer said. “It was an amazing production — just a showman of the top degree with world class musicians behind him.”

The big deals continue. The choir will round out its anniversary season in a big way, with the Rutter Magnificat and Holiday Spectacular in December, Beethoven’s Mass in C in March, motets and chants from Schubert’s Mass in G in April and a season finale in May, featuring works by Cedar Rapids composers.

“Considering the wealth of choral music and conductors and talent in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 60 years is pretty significant,” Kreitzer said.

If you go

• WHAT: Cedar Rapids Concert Chorale: “Celebrating 60 Years of History”

• WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday (10/11)

• WHERE: First Congregational Church, 361 17th St. SE, Cedar Rapids

• TICKETS: $15 advance at Crchorale.org, $20 at the door, free for students; $50 for season tickets

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