The Valencia Chorale recently rehearsed, preparing for its first concert, set for this Thursday.

Joyful noise: New choir builds community



Local singers will fill the halls of the celebrated Chapel of Saint Mary of the Angels with sound and joy on Thursday.

The Valencia Chorale is a new community choir in Winona. Their debut concert, which will take place on Thursday at 7 p.m., will feature music by American composers, said Patrick O’Shea, the choir’s director and a professor of music and director of choirs at Saint Mary’s University. Each piece will be performed either a cappella or with piano accompaniment.

O’Shea stated that he and the singers are feeling well about the initial concert. He added that performers are working on the music on their own and at rehearsal, and they are motivated to perform the pieces movingly.

The choir began in September and has 44 members of all ability levels and ages, from college students to those in their 70s, O’Shea explained.

O’Shea is pleased about the mixture of people and feels that the opportunity to come together and participate in a group is vital for people as human beings in an era with many electronic distractions. “To be able to provide a forum where that happens is really important in building community, in solidifying community, in getting us all together in the same room, regardless of where we come from or what our ideology or beliefs may be,” O’Shea said of coming together and participating in a group through the choir. “In this time, we are all cooperating, we are all doing something together for a greater good, and I think that’s well worth doing.”

Choir member Mary Ellen Erlandson said she feels being a member is fun and challenging in a positive way. She enjoys being part of a musical experience with others and hopes her friends from out of town attend the concert.

Choir member Casey McCarraher explained she has enjoyed meeting community members she would not have otherwise. She said she appreciates how people can connect with one another through music.

O’Shea said one of the choir’s members, a former music teacher, told him that for years, she has not had as much fun singing as she does now with the choir. “Coming from her, that made me feel just wonderful, that it’s connecting with people in the way I hoped it would,” O’Shea stated.

There has not been a co-ed community choir in Winona for a few years since the ending of the Oratorio Chorus, O’Shea noted. Some individuals who had been members of the Oratorio Chorus asked O’Shea if he would like to start a new choir, and for a couple years, he said he would consider doing so.

Winona is blossoming as an arts destination, and O’Shea shared he thinks the city has a number of good musicians and will benefit from this type of choir. Last May, he created and sent out a community survey asking potential members about logistics and what they were interested in performing. He received about 45 replies, and the choir was formed in response to those answers, he said.

O’Shea collaborated with the director of the Minnesota Conservatory for the Arts (MCA), a nonprofit community arts school affiliated with Saint Mary’s University, about the survey responses, and she agreed to have the choir start at MCA.

The choir received a grant from the Winona Fine Arts Commission which will allow admission to be free for the choir’s spring concert. The music at the spring concert will center on the Upper-Mississippi River Region.

Those interested in getting involved with the community choir may connect with MCA online about registration and email O’Shea with any questions. O’Shea said they are welcome to observe the choir’s rehearsals in the new year as well.

Already, O’Shea can see the benefits of a new outlet for members to participate together in an activity that does not require technology. “I see that it makes a difference,” O’Shea said. “I see that people respond and people forge friendships and meet people they hadn’t known before, and it’s an important way of binding the social fabric.”

Tickets for the first concert are $10 for adults and $5 for students, and they can be purchased at the Valencia Arts Center or one-hour before the concert at the Chapel of Saint Mary of the Angels. Cash or check may be used to buy tickets.


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