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A special choral opportunity at Pennswood Village, George School Community Chorus

Posted on March 16, 2015 in General

Written by Helen Greven, Pennswood Village Resident

It is 6:45 p.m. on a dark and cold Sunday evening in February. About 12 of us are huddled together by the Link Door, waiting for the Pennswood bus to take us to George School’s historic Meeting House for the next rehearsal of the Community Chorus. If the weather is really bad, there will be George School maintenance staff to spread salt on our path to the Meeting House door. Many of our friends choose to stay warm and cozy in their apartments, but we, however, can’t wait for another chance to learn gorgeous music under the skilled direction of Jackie Coren, Director of Vocal Music at George School for the past 21 years.

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Photo Courtesy of George School

For two hours every Sunday, for a period of five months (about 12 rehearsals in all, with a few breaks for George School vacations) we will breathe deeply, concentrate fully, sing as best we can, and feel our bodies and spirits expand. The experience of the final Concert makes all those Sunday rehearsals worth every demanding moment.

George School’s Community Chorus has been a tradition for many years. Jackie Coren took it over when she came to George School in 1994. She waits for inspiration to strike as she contemplates the next program, and her choices demonstrate her familiarity with a wide variety of choral music. I have personally experienced Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, Paul Winter’s Missa Gaia, Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, G.F. Handel’s Messiah, Benjamin Britten’s Ceremony of Carols, and An Afternoon at the Opera (Duets and Choruses from various operas). This season explores Music of the Americas, featuring the Argentinian Folk Mass, Misa Criolla, by Ariel Ramirez, and includes Louisiana Creole Folk Songs, a Huron Dance Song, the hymn “Hark I hear the Harps Eternal” and the Shaker Song, “Peace”.

In most instances the 60 or so adults from Pennswood, George School, and the surrounding community are joined toward the end of the rehearsal schedule by the beautiful, young voices of George School’s Chorale, about 25 students who prepare the music as part of the curriculum of Jackie’s Vocal Music class. Sometimes we are graced with members of George School’s orchestra. Years seem to fall away when these young people sing with us. Some of the most beautiful solos are sung by Jackie’s students.

Jackie, herself, is passionate about encouraging even the shyest singer to explore the richness of his or her voice, and experience the depth of joy and connection with others through singing. She has trained as a choral conductor at UC Berkeley, Westminster Choir College (M.M) in Princeton. She also received a Doctor of Divinity from the Earlham School of Religion (Quaker). She has directed the Anna Crusis Women’s Choir in Philadelphia, and is still directing the Pendle Hill Community Chorus.

I was hesitant to join at first, because my voice is no longer what it was when I sang in a church choir many years ago. But Jackie does not hold auditions, and says her only question is “Do you love to sing?” I have learned that I am ready for the concert as long as I attend all (or most) of the rehearsals. Jackie’s energetic pacing of each rehearsal, her gifted teaching and her sense of humor combine to make the time fly by. (It does help to bring a cushion for those plastic rehearsal chairs!)

We don’t know what Jackie will choose for next year’s Community Chorus Concert. She has promised to start off with a community Messiah Sing in early December. The Community Chorus will rehearse a time or two to become “the core” of this event. Regular rehearsals will start next January for a Spring 2016 Concert.

We climb aboard the bus for our return home (just in time for Downton Abbey) with renewed energy and enthusiasm for the week ahead. And there is still room on the bus for more Pennswood residents to join in!

For more information about upcoming events at Pennswood Village, or to schedule a visit, call us at 866-740-4977, or visit our website.