Funk charts steady course for Octavo Singers

The Octavo Singers have a new director, Curtis Funk. But don’t expect him to make any big changes.

The Octavo Singers have a new director, Curtis Funk. But don’t expect him to make any big changes.

“You know the old saying: ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ Truer words could not apply to this talented, dedicated and friendly group of singers,” Funk said. “I’m blessed to have incredibly strong singers. There are no weak sections.”

He and the Octavos will perform Sunday at the First Reformed Church of Scotia in a program that includes Gounod’s St. Cecilia Mass, Mozart’s “Confessore Vespers” and selections from the 2011 Octavo Singers’ scholarship winner.

Octavo, whose membership often exceeds 75 singers, has been a choral mainstay of the community for more than seven decades. Director George Moross had conducted the group for 40 of those years until he died July 28, 2010. The Octavos were thrown into a quandary as to who they could find to take his position.

“They were interviewing others,” Funk said. “But I had known George before, and when I heard of his death I called Octavo and asked if they needed help.”

Octavo Singers

WHEN: 3 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: First Reformed Church of Scotia, 224 N. Ballston Ave., Scotia

HOW MUCH: $20, $15, $10 or $50 for a family

MORE INFO: 253-7088,

Last February, the Octavos were doing a set of library concerts and asked Funk if he wanted to conduct the Vivaldi and PDQ Bach they were singing. It was his audition.

“Both [Octavo and Funk] worked well together,” said Pat Angerosa, one of the singers, in an email. “He comes with wonderful enthusiasm and skill.”

It is not the first chorus Funk has directed, although he said it is the largest.

After attending Michigan State University and Eastern Michigan University for his bachelor’s degree in music, he worked for a few years in the Mineola, Long island, school system as a high school orchestra director and a middle school choral director. In 1988, however, he changed course and got a job in the health department of the state Legislature, later moving to the executive branch, where he currently works in the Department of Public Service.

“But I’ve never not had a musical venue,” he said. “It’s critical to my essence.”

In almost every chorus where he might have started out as a baritone, he became the musical director. Some of the organizations he has been affiliated with include First Lutheran Church in Albany; St. Mary’s Church in Albany; and the NY Catholic Chorale, which is based at Siena College — “a phenomenal group,” he said. In all, he said, he’s worked with at least six secular and sacred choirs and loved every minute.

“At the twilight-ish age of 55, I . . . can’t get enough of rehearsal halls, podiums and conductors’ scores,” he said.

Contemplating changes

But he did want to change a few things with Octavo.

“We will change the dress. The ladies will be all in black, floor length; and the men will be in tuxes,” he said.

After 40 years of singing mostly sacred music, and many of those works requiems, Funk wants to take a vacation from that music form.

“We’ll do more Masses and opera choruses. I’m also open to new literature that we haven’t done or done recently,” he said, adding that other large works will come from what is called the Common Practice Period of 1600-1900, with possible ventures into 20th century literature.

He will continue to keep the group as non-audition — new singers only sing a few notes so he knows in what section to place them. Rehearsals are Monday nights at the First United Methodist Church on State Street in Schenectady. Each singer pays a $20 membership fee per concert plus money toward either a music purchase or music rental fees.

But Funk does have a vision for where he wants to take the group. Because he wants more people to know just how good Octavo is, he said, he wants to develop new audiences beyond the great following the chorus has in Schenectady County. So he’s looking for other venues, especially those “big old” churches that can accommodate a very large chorus, a small orchestra and numerous listeners.

“There’s nothing that accentuates a piece of sacred music . . . like a beautiful sanctuary as a backdrop,” he said. “The visual is 25 percent of a concert. And I want Octavo known more . . . be a household name, especially in Albany County.”

Last summer he scoped out churches in downtown Albany, such as St. Luke’s Church, St. Adalbert Catholic Church and the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Funk also wants to check churches as far north as Ballston Spa and others south and west of Albany.

“I want to do a concert in each I’ve found,” he said.

One of the first changes will be where the popular Handel “Messiah” will be sung Dec. 18. Instead of Union College’s Memorial Chapel, Octavo will be at St. John the Evangelist Church, where Funk expects to have 120 singers and a 24-piece orchestra. The early start time of 1:30 p.m. is because the singers must be done for the priest to hold the 5:30 p.m. Mass, Funk said with a laugh.

And May 6, Octavo will sing Haydn’s “The Creation” at St. Luke’s Church in Schenectady. The summer library series will also continue at libraries in Schenectady, Colonie and perhaps Guilderland.

Categories: Life and Arts

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