"Three years ago we received an invitation from Robert Shaw to perform in his Festival of the Mass, then the next year to Europe to sing in the cathedrals," says Texan Halden Conner of the choral group he chairs, Schola Cantorum of Texas. "Everybody liked that travel. Once you get a taste, how do you get them back on the farm?"
This week Schola Cantorum ventures to the Kennedy Center. Texan voices will grace the capital city when House Majority Leader Jim Wright (D-Tex.) joins the Schola Cantorum for its Kennedy Center Concert Hall debut Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. Wright has represented Schola's home base of Fort Worth for three decades and is known for his oratory skills.
As the group performs Randall Thompson's choral work "The Testament of Freedom," Wright "will do a narration of the four letters that are a part of that composition -- actually letters that Thomas Jefferson wrote," says the Schola's music director and conductor, Gary Ebensberger. The concert will also feature works by Handel, Brahms, Byrd and others, plus "Shenandoah" and "Deep River."
While Conner says, "We like to pride ourselves on being semiprofessional, which means we don't get paid for our singing," a majority of the group's members are in music as a profession. As for the rest, Conners says, "Twenty to 25 percent are people who love to sing but have business outside of music." Although most of the 55 members live in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and maintain busy professional schedules, some commute several hours to weekly practices.
Says Conners: "We all make time for what we love, and I love to sing."