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Smith Voices Perform with Local Chorus

When the Hampshire Choral Society performs Johann Sebastian Bach’s St. John Passion at John M. Greene Hall on Sunday, June 11, many of its members will be on familiar ground.

The Hampshire Choral Society (HCS) is a 130-member chorus with membership from Northampton and surrounding communities. Founded 54 years ago, the ensemble performs a range of classical music including, most recently, works by Beethoven and, on May 7, Brahms’ German Requiem in conjunction with the Pioneer Valley Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. The group is directed by Allan Taylor, a concert organist and harpsichordist.

Among the chorus’ 130 vocalists is a strong contingent from the Smith community. HCS counts several Smith alumnae among its members, as well as a few staff members and several family members of faculty and staff past and present.

“I can think of a dozen or more Smith alumnae (Ada Comstock Scholars and traditional-aged), staff, former staff, and faculty spouses in the group,” says Carla Cooke, administrative assistant in the Office of Educational Outreach, who sings alto, and joined HCS in 1996, then rejoined in 2001 after completing her undergraduate degree at Smith. “I have gotten to know quite a few people in the chorus. I'm sure that if I checked into it, I would find that quite a few other HCS members are affiliated with Smith in some way.”

Georgia Yuan, general counsel at Smith, joined the chorus in 2003 when she began at Smith. “HCS is a wonderful community of vocalists with a great tradition,” says Yuan, who also sings alto. “I have met so many friends from all over the Valley and now know other Smith-related folks primarily as fellow musicians.”

It’s fitting that so many people from the Smith community belong to HCS. Both organizations have become intrinsic parts of the city. Since it was founded in 1952, HCS has performed at many anniversary events in the area, including the Northampton Tercentenary celebration in 1954 and the city’s 350th anniversary two years ago.

Bach’s St. John Passion, composed in 1723, is an extensive work that sets the passion narrative (the Last Supper and Jesus’ crucifixion) to recitative, in this case for six soloists singing the parts of Jesus, Pilate, Peter, and others, accompanied by chorus and orchestra.

Arranged in nine movements, Bach’s St. John Passion is a meditative, highly emotional work. However, its analysis is often dominated by the composer’s attention to thematic symbolism and symmetry of form. As in most his works, Bach composed the St. John Passion with devotion to its Christian text, and his theological intent permeates all aspects of the score.

The June 11 concert begins at 3 p.m. Tickets are $12 for adults, $7 for students, available at the door.

-Eric Weld

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