NICOLE S. COLSON
When Monadnock Chorus artistic director Morgan Bothwell did his first concert season with the group recently, there was already a very welcoming environment in place.
“I got lucky,” he said. “It’s already instilled. The chorus has been around 60-plus years and some of the members have been with us the entire time.”
Monadnock Chorus serves all ages
What he likes to do is seat new members or visitors next to senior members at rehearsal.
To increase accessibility to the younger demographic of singers, the chorus also waives the tuition fee for new members 25 and under.
The key to the organization’s long-term success, as written right on its website, is “the promotion of choral singing as an art form among residents of all ages.”
One way Bothwell says the chorus does this is by showcasing newer works by living composers.
“By doing newer works it shows flexibility—it’s important for younger voices,” said Bothwell.
At the same time, educating about musical history and tradition is equally important to the group.
Intergenerational connection sparks in chorus
Bothwell talks about a young baritone soloist and recent Yale University graduate who began talking with a much older member during a rehearsal. This older member had an oxygen tank and still came to sing at rehearsal every week.
“They found out they went to the same high school,” said Bothwell. “I’ve never seen a gentleman smile like (the older gentleman) did. It brought out the kid in him remembering these high school memories.”
The older member passed away recently and Bothwell reached out to the young soloist.
“He was so thankful he had the experience to meet him,” he said. “That’s what I want. I want there to be multiple generations so younger singers can benefit from the wisdom of veteran singers and older members won’t feel alone in their enjoyment of the music.”
The Monadnock Chorus, founded in 1959, performs four ticketed concerts each year. A smaller choral ensemble, the Monadnock Chorus Chamber Singers, prepares and performs six or more concerts each year. The Chamber Singers also perform in different venues throughout the Monadnock Region.
Bothwell teaches and conducts at Keene State College and Franklin Pierce University.Accordingly, he has a degree in vocal performance and also performs in vocal ensembles and operas, primarily in Boston and New York.
Monadnock Chorus includes all ability levels
At the group’s spring 2023 concert, a piece titled “Illuminare” by Eliane Hagenberg premiered, along with new works by Jake Runestad and Eric Whitacre.
“I was trying to show that the times we are in now are filled with brand new amazing music that’s being created,” he said.
Another goal of his this holiday season is to bring people into the chorus who maybe have never sung before.
“I want to make sure every member feels like a cog in the machine,” said Bothwell, “in a sense that everyone is important and not replaceable. We want your voice too.”
Bothwell credits board president Joan Epro, membership coordinator Deborah Kaiser, and director-at-large Cathy Lanigan for keeping things running.
“Each has a wonderful view and is always willing to help,” she said. “Cathy and Debbie go out of their way to learn about people coming through the door and making sure they have what they need and things they don’t realize they need.”
When inviting singers of all abilities to join the group, Bothwell’s idea is that veterans will know the music, but it will be easy for anyone to pick up. By making the music accessible to all, he went on, it creates a sense of community.
Likewise, the chorus invites the audience to participate.
“It’s always a tradition (at the holiday concert) for the chorus to sing with the audience,” he said. “It’s a chance to get involved and sing together. I want the audience to know they are being taken care of in that space. Personal connection to music is important.”
Members feel uplifted by Monadnock Chorus
Bothwell also wants choir members to be better than when they first walked in the door at the start of rehearsals for a performance.
“I want them to be fulfilled and feel a sense of accomplishment with the music no matter what,” he said.
Presently, a short-term goal is to create a strong, streamlined social media presence. The chorus wants to be able to reach young people more effectively.
Additionally, a long-term goal is to create more partnerships with other arts organizations and apply for more grant funding.
“In the next few years you’ll see a stronger presence from the chorus,” said Bothwell.
First and foremost, Bothwell feels the presence of community is what will continue to ensure the group’s longevity.
“There’s no hierarchy; it’s about elevating the music, not one specific person,” he said. “That’s why it’s survived for 60-plus years. There are people here who care deeply about the mission of the chorus and the community that supports music.”
For more information about Monadnock Chorus, visit www.monadnockchorus.org
For more information about the Arts Access Project: opening doors to the arts, visit Arts Access project and resources.