SCHENECTADY — What does a group do when it’s been around for 100 years?
On Sunday, the Thursday Musical Club, an all-women’s chorus, will give a concert that marks “A Century of Song and Service.” The local chamber music group, the Musicians of Ma’alwyck, will be featured.
“The concert will reflect various eras of the chorus,” said Julie Panke, the group’s director since 2003.
That means besides such pop favorites as Gershwin’s “Love Walked In” and the famous Shaker hymn “How Can I Keep From Singing?” the 45-member chorus will sing ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” and the commissioned piece by Valerie Showers Crescenz called “There’s Nothing That a Woman Cannot Do.”
Written for women
“I like repertoire that is [written] for women’s voices rather than those arranged for women,” Panke said. “There are more composers now in the last 25 years writing for the timbre of the female voice. And I have an eye to audience favorites to have a good mix of pop standards and more serious repertoire.”
Thursday Musical Club 100th anniversary
WHERE: First Reformed Church, 8 N. Church St., Schenectady
WHEN: 2:30 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $15, $12
MORE INFO: 334-6873
Although the club was founded mostly as a vehicle for women to sing together, the group showed a particular steadfastness over the years to serve the community culturally and to maintain morale especially during wartime.
According to the club’s records, the group was founded in October 1913 by Elizabeth Jones, the wife of Arthur Jones, who was a General Electric executive. Ladies would gather in Jones’ living room on Thursday mornings to rehearse because that was the day most of their maids had off.
Within a few months of those first rehearsals, the club gave its first concert in January at the ballroom of the Mohawk Golf Club. By then, they’d already chosen Bernard Mausert as their first director, who served until 1919. The guest artist of that first concert was bass Frank Croxton, who became a member of the famed Peerless Quartet in 1918, which was inducted in 2003 into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame based in Sharon, Penn.
Although there’s no record of what the women sang that January, a typical program of the era included a large vocal work possibly by a living composer, an interpretive reading, various vocal solos by members of the Club and perhaps a favorite, Dvo˘rák’s “Songs of My Mother.” The Club also decided to schedule two concerts a year.
Supporting war effort
When World War I came, the club gave concerts especially of patriotic songs to help further the war effort. E.E. Lloyd became the director for a year before Elmer Tidmarsh took over in 1920 and served until 1965. The club had its first competition in 1938 to award a commission to celebrate its 25th anniversary. Metropolitan Opera tenor Frederick Jagel came up to sing the new piece.
Concerts continued through World War II with such guests as Metropolitan Opera coloratura soprano Josephine Antoine. In 1960, Helen Henshaw, the club’s longtime accompanist, purchased handbells from the Whitechapel foundry in England and established the Thursday Belles, which introduced handbell
ringing to the Northeast. In 1963, the Elmer Tidmarsh Scholarship Fund was established at Union College and continues today. In 1965, Henshaw became the club’s fourth director until 1980, when Carl Steubing took over until 1985. Anthony Pezzano served for a year, followed by Roger Hannahs from 1986 to 1992, Glenn Soellner from 1992 to 1999 and John Malthouse from 1999 to 2003.
Other scholarships were established in 1988 and 1989 with two annual college student scholarships for Schenectady County Community College students and in 2002 for two Schenectady High School students. In recent years, the winners often sing at the concerts.
The club continues to be only for women, including its accompanist, Elinore Farnum, who has played for several years.
“I joined the club in 1986, . . . and I soon discovered that a daytime practice had its advantages,” said singer Ann Tetrault, in an email. “There weren’t as many women working full-time and . . . there was a built-in opportunity for socializing.”
Over the years, Tetrault said, she’s enjoyed many luncheons and coffees with the members, but now that Panke is at the helm, she’s learned how to sing better.
“Julie seems tireless in her attention to detail,” Tetrault said.
Panke, who also has directed the mixed Capital Community Voices since 1995, said her focus has always been on getting her choruses to produce a beautiful sound and a uniformity of vowels, which makes for cleaner diction.
“But the sound for an all-women’s chorus is not sweet and angelic as it was expected to be years ago,” Panke said. “This is a more confident sound, . . . more edge. It’s also a less muddy sound. And women can do close harmony.”
Women’s community choruses are still fairly rare and Panke, like Tetrault, enjoy the perks.
“We can let our hair down,” Panke said with a laugh. “We have fun. We know how to nurture and support.”
She’s also committed to expanding the repertoire, which is why she asked Crescenz to write a piece for the club.
“We’d sung her repertoire before and when the commissioning opportunity arose, she was the perfect person because she’d written for women’s chorus.” Panke said.
Crescenz is expected to attend the concert. This is the fourth commission for the club.
Because the concert is a special one, Panke wanted to share the event. She said she knew of the Musicians of Ma’alwyck and of its historical bent and decided MOM would make a good partner. MOM will play Amy Beach’s “Berceuse” and Victor Herbert’s Serenade, both for cello and piano; Gershwin/Heifetz’s “It Ain’t Necessarily So” and Schwartz/Stone’s “Dancing in the Dark” for violin and piano.
Also featured will be Elaine Houston of Channel 13, who will give a history of women’s achievements in Schenectady, and drummers Tony Riccobono and Leonard Tobler in the pop selections.
The club is always looking for new members. No auditions are held, although being able to read music is helpful, Panke said.