Vancouver USA Singers Chorus celebrates 50 years

This weekend features special series of concerts

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What: Special concert to kick off of the 50th anniversary season of the Vancouver USA Singers. Includes the world premiere of "All God's Children" a cantata by Henry Mollicone commissioned to celebrate the event.

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday.

Where: First Presbyterian Church, 4300 Main St.

Cost: $20 in advance, $22 at the door.

Information: Vancouver USA Singers.

Associated event

What: Special screening of "Face on the Barroom Floor: The Poem, the Place, the Opera" with guest Henry Mollicone.

When: 7:30 tonight.

Where: Kiggins Theatre, 1011 Main St.

Cost: $10.

Information: Vancouver USA Singers.

What: Special concert to kick off of the 50th anniversary season of the Vancouver USA Singers. Includes the world premiere of “All God’s Children” a cantata by Henry Mollicone commissioned to celebrate the event.

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday.

Where: First Presbyterian Church, 4300 Main St.

Cost: $20 in advance, $22 at the door.

Information: Vancouver USA Singers.

Associated event

What: Special screening of “Face on the Barroom Floor: The Poem, the Place, the Opera” with guest Henry Mollicone.

When: 7:30 tonight.

Where: Kiggins Theatre, 1011 Main St.

Cost: $10.

Information: Vancouver USA Singers.

Jana Hart has been planning this weekend’s concert series by the Vancouver USA Singers ever since she took over as director four years ago.

That’s because this season is a big one — it marks the half-century anniversary of the 90-member choral group.

“The very first year I was here, I knew the 50th was coming up, and thought I wanted to find something really awesome to do,” Hart said.

The former professional opera singer didn’t have to think long before she found the perfect thing. She contacted an old friend, composer Henry Mollicone, and asked if he would be willing to write something special for the group.

“I know him from performing in Los Angeles, Santa Fe and other venues,” Hart said. “And he agreed to write a piece for us. It’s beautiful. It’s absolutely beautiful.”

Mollicone’s cantata “All God’s Children” will be the featured piece in the group’s four concerts this weekend. And the well-known opera composer and his wife are coming to the area to see it performed, Hart said.

“It’s a really big deal for us,” Hart said. “And then we’re going to do Vivaldi’s ‘Gloria’ and Lauridsen’s ‘Lux Aeterna’ in the second half.”

The singers will also make a professional recording of the piece during the concerts, Hart said.

And Mollicone won’t be the only dignitary at the event.

Irma Slocum, one of the founders of the group, will also be there to cheer the troupe on.

Slocum, her husband Bill Slocum, who died in 2001, and their friends Agnes and Charlie Alexander founded the independent chorus in 1963 — but it’s actually even older than that.

“In 1948, we started a different group, called the Choraleers, which we opened up to (the public) in 1953,” Slocum said. “We started out singing Brahms waltzes and other pieces, and we ended up renaming ourselves The Brahms Singers.”

That group toured all over the Pacific Northwest, Canada and even in Europe. But The Brahms Singers name came to an inglorious end when the troupe performed in that other Vancouver, she said.

“People got us mixed up with Vancouver, Canada, because we had done some traveling in Canada and other places, and some of our members got very angry about that,” Slocum said. “So we changed the name to the Vancouver USA Singers.”

Some of the group’s early favorites were Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. Her favorite is probably “The Pirates of Penzance” she said.

Slocum, who’s 92, stopped singing in the choir about five years ago. But she still goes to every concert and socializes with many members of the group.

“She’s lovely,” Hart said. “She sends letters to the singers after the performances. She’s great.”

The Vancouver USA Singers is the largest unaffiliated choir — and the oldest — in the Northwest.

Through the years, it has fostered international friendships and relationships with other choirs, Slocum said.

“In 1974, we did what I think was our first series of concerts over in Britain, and then they brought some of their choirs here,” Slocum said. “Since then, we’ve had Scottish choirs and Canadian choirs come. They’ve come from many different countries. We thought of it as an international effort to promote peace and friendship. I still exchange cards and letters with many of them.”

And while the group has grown from about 16 members when it first began, to 50 or so in the 1970s and to 90 people today, it still remains close-knit, almost like a family, Hart said.

“People love to sing,” Hart said. “It’s such a wonderful communal thing.”

Bill Slocum would have agreed. In a 1986 letter to chorus members, he wrote: “We have sung together for the pure joy of singing, and not for money or fame. I hope it will always be that way.”