By Barbara Trainin Blank @traininblank
Some say men’s choruses are on the decline – with many going the coed route.
On the other side of the coin are the persistence of gay men’s choral groups and the determination of male glee clubs on college campuses across the country to continue.
That’s the view of Michael Doan, who has been singing for seven years with Washington Men’s Camerata as a first tenor.
Brad Spencer, Jeff Skeer, Ned Goldberg, Audi Peal and John Polanin founded WMC, now in its 35th year. (Spencer, Skeer and Goldberg still sing with the group.)
Many people don’t know that “glee” is the name of a type of music that’s a madrigal or hymn, rather than having a connection to joy, said Frank Albinder, Washington Men’s Camerata director.
WMC’s’s mission honors the tradition of men’s choral music by providing performances, promoting the choral art, and preserving the repertoire, said Albinder, who blames the reason for the decline for such groups on technological and social changes.
“With smartphones and social media, people aren’t interested in committing to something [like this],” he said.
The members of Washington Men’s Camerata and other choruses have resisted that trend.
“We sing some Broadway music, and some opera as well,” said Doan. “It’s hard to categorize the music. It’s almost all classical. We don’t do jazz or country.”
The chorus also has produced several CDs of their music, and a few years ago, Camerata accompanied the National Symphony Orchestra.
“We have a pretty good mix of voices, and a roster of 54 people,” said Doan. “Many are previous glee club singers.”
Albinder chooses the theme for each concert, which for WMC’s upcoming Dec. 2 event, is “Christmas and the Camerata.”
Frank Albinder, who has been director of the chorus for 20 years, spoke of WMC’s remaining original members; one is 93.
However, the range starts as young as 22, which is a little unusual – and young – for men’s choruses, Doan said.
In addition to singing, Camerata helps keep tradition alive. In an effort to preserve some of the nation’s most outstanding choral collections, in 1998, WMC, with the support of the National Endowment for The Arts, established a National Library of Men’s Choral Music in Washington, D.C. It has more than 1500 titles in the database.
Doan enjoys singing and artistic expression, but also WMC’s camaraderie; he has sung in several other choruses as well.
The word “camerata,” appropriately, is Italian for “fellowship.”
The irony is that Doan’s father sang in the San Francisco Opera Chorus, but he “rebelled.” It was only when Doan turned 67 that he started voice lessons.
A former director of the San Francisco-based Chanticleer, Albinder also conducts the Woodley Ensemble and the Virginia Glee Club, and is president of Intercollegiate Men’s Choruses, Inc., a national organization.
Despite the trend toward coed groups, Albinder said he appreciates the “something-special, musical thing” about all-women’s choral groups and all-men’s choral groups, with their “distinct repertoires and distinctive sounds. It’s really a different experience.”
The Dec. 2 concert will include familiar, traditional carols as well as pieces that audiences may not have heard of before.
The musical works include “Sing We Noel,” a 16th-century French carol; “Ave Maris Stella” by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg; “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s “Messiah”; the traditional Wassail Song arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams; “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “White Christmas”; and, of course, “Silent Night.”
The concert takes place at 4 p.m., at Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church, 6601 Bradley Blvd. in Bethesda; for directions, call the church at 301-365-2850.
New singers are welcome to audition. For more information about Washington Men’s Camerata, call 202-364-1064 or visit their website at www.camerata.com.
Concert tickets are $25 and can be ordered online at https://camerata.com/product/christmas-with-the-camerata-2017ticket/.