Sacramento Choral Society and Orchestra 3

Bringing beautiful music to the Sacramento community, at Christmas and year-round

Many Americans, especially in the Baby Boomer and earlier generations, grew up with choral music as part of their weekly church services. Whether Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, or many other denominations, most churches had a choir and hymnals, and choral music was part of everyday life. Now with praise and other types of worship music replacing traditional choirs in most churches, many people rarely if ever get a chance to hear great choral singing. But Sacramento area residents are lucky to have a world-class choral group performing year-round. The Sacramento Choral Society and Orchestra (SCSO) performs concerts featuring traditional baroque, classical, and romantic era music, including masses and other religious music, along with secular and modern music, musical theater pieces, and of course holiday classics.

James McCormick, President of the SCSO, says that “Conductor Donald Kendrick is the artistic director and he is known for his program abilities. While we love the Romantic and early 20th century works, he has made it a point to incorporate classical works and earlier works from the Baroque period. On the annual Stained Glass concert he will sometimes include Gregorian Chant and Renaissance music. One of his gifts is the ability to pair a tried and true work (like Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater) with ‘accessible contemporary’ works to stretch the ears of the performers and the audience members as well. As artistic director, Kendrick has to take into account whether a given piece stimulates and challenges the singers and our professional players, will the piece have great audience value, and is there an educational component that the piece will unveil. He aims for contrasts in moods and textures in various works in a program, key relationships, etc. Lots of things to consider.”

The Sacramento Choral Society is fortunate to have its own dedicated orchestra. McCormick says, “Many choruses in the U.S. will engage amateur orchestras now and then, and some brave choruses work hard to engage a professional orchestra for a unique concert. Of the 12,000 community choruses in the U.S., the SCSO is the only large community chorus of its kind to have a collective bargaining agreement with a professional orchestra. As such, in a given two year period we can guarantee employment for these players that they can count on. Since 1996, we have infused the coffers of our local union (American Federation of Musicians, Local 12) with approximately 2.3 million dollars.” Many of the 55 skilled players in the SCSO are also members of the Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera.

While the orchestra is paid, the singers are all dedicated volunteers. “The SCSO consists of approximately 150 auditioned singers from 6 different area counties”, says McCormick. “They pay annual dues, they pay for parking at rehearsals at Sac State and they buy their own music each year. Total expenses amount to about $325 a year per singer. Approximately ninety percent of our members work full time, as music is their avocation. All of the volunteer singers read music well and are committed to practicing weekly. We gauge that collectively our members donate about 38,000 hours annually to make our large choral orchestra concerts happen. We estimate that a given singer spends one to two hours a week practicing on their own.” In addition to the regular chorus, SCSO also works with a children’s chorus. “We feature the Children’s Chorus frequently—certainly at Christmas at our ‘Wells Fargo Home for the Holidays’ concerts, in Carmina Burana, and other special large-scale classical music concerts. The Children provide excellent role models for the young people in the audience at a given concert” said McCormick.

The group also performs in annual international tours, like the upcoming performances in Scandinavia and the Baltics, which will involve travel to Latvia, Estonia, and Finland. The tours are voluntary and self-funded for the members.

I asked McCormick what he thought the organization brought to the Sacramento community. “Our large 200-plus member team is actively engaged in the arts. At concert time, we draw people from various age groups that reflect the make-up and ethnicity of the SCSO itself. The singers are the driving force behind our success and enjoyment. They are so committed to great music, to our community, and to the SCSO. Their spirit is amazing and they, along with Conductor Donald Kendrick, make our music-making a total joy. Their combined energy builds a healthier community through music.”

To learn more about the Sacramento Choral Society and Orchestra, attend upcoming concerts, or even audition to be a part of the group, visit