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Community choir wants to 'be somebody' in artistic community

Published: Saturday, Nov. 5 2011 4:00 p.m. MDT

Utah Voices receives a standing ovation at their concert "Things Sacred and Profane" on April 30, 2010, at the Libby Gardner Concert Hall.

Andrew Ariotti

If you’ve ever attended any kind of choral performance, you probably think you have a good idea of what they're always like.

The singers shuffle onto the stage, someone sits at the piano, the conductor stands before the group and they sing two hours away before shuffling off the stage, ending the concert.

Utah Voices has a different vision of what the choral experience should be for both choir members and audience.

“Rehearsals are never dull; concerts never boring,” reads the choir’s mission statement on its website.

“I think that Utah Voices has set a precedent that we do not ever have boring concerts. …We want the concept of choral singing to be something that is engaging,” said Juliann Peacock, managing director and one of the founders of the choir.

The formula seems to be working. According to its creators, the 180-member choir has already developed quite the following and has even been invited to perform in the Lincoln Center in New York this month.

Utah Voices is only in its third season.

The 2011-2012 season officially kicks off with a fall performance, “Hometown Praise” on Nov. 11 at the Libby Gardner Concert Hall in Salt Lake City.

The choir is currently under the direction of Dr. Michael Huff, a visiting professor at Utah State University. Among other accomplishments, Huff was associate conductor and principal accompanist for the Utah Symphony Chorus for more than a decade. He’s spent many years building a reputation as a conductor, arranger, composer, teacher and clinician.

Huff described a “blueprint” he had set aside years ago, a plan for how he would run a choir if he got the chance. The development of a brand new community choir gave him that chance.

Peacock and some other members of a community choir Huff had directed wanted to continue singing under Huff’s direction. Peacock said she approached Huff and he basically told her if she started pulling a choir together for him to conduct, he would conduct it.

“The Utah Voices plan was my plan for the ultimate community choir,” he said. He described a choir that exists to serve its members and the community, one that puts on concerts that are both interesting and entertaining, one that is inclusive. And, he says, Utah Voices is that choir.

The most important thing that sets the choir apart, both Huff and Peacock agree, is that Utah Voices is a non-auditioned choir.

“Even though it’s a non-auditioned chorus, they (the singers) really do rise to the occasion,” Peacock said. A veteran choral singer herself, she explained that thanks to the work of Huff and associate conductor Kelly DeHaan, the choir members “attain a level of musicianship that in my experience in other choirs has been non-existent.”

“We believe that anyone that wants to sing should be able to sing,” she said.

“Auditions are useful if you want instant screening,” Huff said, pointing out that many talented people won’t try out for choirs out of fear of that audition. The creators of Utah Voices made the decision early on to keep the choir open to all and to simply work hard to achieve quality. “The end result, I think, isn’t so different,” Huff said, quickly adding, that they never compromise their artistic standards.

“My job is to show up at rehearsal every week and do everything I possibly can to inspire them to sing better than they think they can,” he said.

Utah Voices singers demonstrated their skill in 2009 with their debut performance of Handel’s “Messiah,” a performance that has become a December tradition for the choir and the one that earned them the invitation to sing the same song in New York.

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