When David Rossi steps to the podium on Nov. 30 to conduct the Mohawk Valley Chorus, he will see 100 singers waiting for his downbeat.
“It’s going well,” said Rossi, who is in his third season with the chorus. “I’d expected some loss but we have sustained the numbers.”
He is the sixth director the chorus has had in its 64-year history. It began in 1948 as a joint venture merging the Mohawk Mills Glee Club, which had begun in 1935, and the Mohawk Carpet Mills Ladies Glee Club, which had started in 1941. It became the Mohawk Valley Chorus officially in 1962.
Rossi replaced John Nethaway, who stepped down after a 30-year run.
“John was a legend,” Rossi said. “It was a big responsibility to fill his shoes. But I knew the singers were a nice group of people.”
Mohawk Valley Chorus
What: Holiday concerts
• 8 p.m. Nov. 30 — Scotia Reformed Church
• 7 p.m. Dec. 1 — Johnstown Reformed Church
• 3 p.m. Dec. 2 — United Presbyterian Church, Amsterdam
HOW MUCH: $12, $9, children 12 and under are free
MORE INFO: 855-9231
He expected there might be some complaints because his style is different. “It’s light and I try to make it fun and bring knowledge to the people’s week,” he said.
Because the group is also unauditioned, he wasn’t sure how much teaching of vocal techniques he would have to do. In that area, he has plenty of experience: He’s the music teacher for K-8 at King Magnet School in Schenectady; conducts the Clifton Park Community Chorus, the Choraliers of St. Clare of Schenectady, and is the organist and choral director for Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
Instead, the singers embraced his leadership and he’s had to make only a few suggestions.
“No complaints,” he said. “The singers are fun and are making great music.”
They come from all over the Capital Region to rehearse weekly in Amsterdam. Rossi is a local guy too, a graduate of Colonie Central High School. Alfred Fedak is the accompanist/organist.
Want to join?
Anyone interested in singing with the chorus must attend two rehearsals at the Inman Center in Amsterdam before officially joining. For more information call 779-5061.
“I couldn’t do my job without him,” Rossi said.
In the past, the chorus usually sang programs that were on the lighter side. But under Nethaway’s direction during the 1990s, they began to explore more difficult works, such as the Mozart and Verdi requiems and Vivaldi’s Gloria. They also took four European tours.
Rossi wasn’t sure about doing more tours, but he began to urge the chorus to develop their skills with other classics from the repertoire, such as Duruflé’s Requiem and Rutter’s Gloria, which they performed last season.
For this concert, which will be repeated on Dec. 1 and 2, the chorus will sing two selections from Handel’s “Messiah,” with the rest of the program a mix of seasonal favorites like “Jingle Bells” and “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”; a few Hanukkah tunes; and some sacred songs like Holst’s “Christmas Day” and “Peaceful, Silent Night.” The Mohawk Valley Kids under the direction of Theresa Jackson will also sing accompanied by Matthew Cinquanti.
The May 18 and May 19 concerts will be tricky, especially for Rossi. The chorus will sing Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana,” which will be familiar for those singers who were with the chorus 12 years ago. But Rossi has never conducted it.
“It will be a big challenge,” he said.
Because he wants more time to rehearse, the program for the March 9 and 10 concerts will be pops, something the chorus does easily, he said. The chorus-sponsored Youth Chorale, directed by Margaret Lazarou, will also sing at the March concerts.
With two seasons behind him, Rossi said he’s looking ahead.
“It’s been a lot of fun but I have some ideas bubbling around,” he said. “I’d like to change up the venues. I want to keep it regional but I want to expand.”
Last year for the first time, the chorus sang at the First Baptist Church in Ballston Spa and will return there for the March concerts.
“They seemed to like us,” Rossi said laughing.
It was a nice change, especially for the chorus members who are from Saratoga County, since they have to travel to the venues in Amsterdam, Johnstown or Scotia for performances. One thing Rossi has noticed that is different from past seasons is that more of the singers are volunteering to handle the publicity and administrative work and the roadie work of setting up and taking down.
“More guys are stepping up and doing the grunt work,” he said. “So much goes into doing a concert behind the scenes.”
Since the holiday concert schedule spans three locations, Rossi said he is hoping to attract some new men who can sing in the Orff.
“We have tons of ladies,” Rossi said.