Chorus of Westerly
The Chorus of Westerly was founded in 1959 by Music Director George Kent. In addition to providing an outlet for singers to learn repertoire other than Sunday music, the Chorus was founded with the goal of bringing new artistic experiences to the people of the greater Westerly, Rhode Island region. Specifically, Kent founded the chorus in order to give children a chance to sing major choral works alongside their adult counterparts. Kent firmly believed that children could do more in music performance than they were, perhaps, normally allowed to do. Fifty-two years later, the Chorus has become nationally recognized by Chorus America as unique in enabling children to sing a challenging repertoire of major works, and is, indeed, one of the only choruses in the United States to combine children’s and adults’ voices in the same ensemble, as equal members and of equal rank, throughout the concert season.
Over the years the Chorus has grown in size (its ranks now include nearly 200 singers including 80 children/teens ages 8-18), and it has expanded its programming into an ambitious year-round season. Two classical concerts are offered each November and May with professional orchestra and soloists. During the holiday season, the Chorus presents a series of three Christmas Pops performances with orchestra, and seven presentations (just after Christmas) of A Celebration of Twelfth Night. This presentation is a musical and theatrical extravaganza (originally inspired by Revels) that features the Chorus, a small orchestra, and the talents of nearly 300 other community performers and volunteers. In June, the Chorus offers Summer Pops in Westerly’s eighteen-acre Wilcox Park to audiences of 25,000 and more annually.
In 1990, the Chorus initiated a week-long Choral Symposium program, held at the Ogontz White Mountain Camp, led by Sir David Willcocks, Britain’s most revered choral conductor. The program has continued every July to the present day, and in 1999 expanded to two weeks of singing. Richard Marlow, formerly of Trinity College, Cambridge, currently leads the second week. Every August, a third week of singing is held at Ogontz, this one, led by George Kent, is specifically for the children and teenagers of the Chorus to help prepare them for the upcoming season of music.
Over its 50 seasons, the Chorus has brought to Westerly many of the greatest choral works ever written from Bach’s B Minor Mass to Walton’s Belshazzer’s Feast, receiving critical acclaim and attention in both the regional media and in national publications such as the New York Times and Yankee Magazine. In addition, the Chorus has performed seven U.S. premieres of British choral works and has undertaken three large-scale concert tours abroad (twice to Great Britain and once to Italy). As part of these tours, the Chorus performed at King’s College Chapel, Westminster Abbey, Canterbury Cathedral, Saint Mark’s Basilica (Venice), Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, and performed the Verdi Requiem for the prestigious closing concert of the 1987 Spoleto Festival of Two Worlds.
George E. Kent Performance HallAlthough the Chorus has performed in various locations throughout New England and toured internationally, its home is in Westerly. Since 1969, the Chorus has rehearsed and performed in what is now the George Kent Performance Hall, and was formerly the Westerly Immaculate Conception Church, and later the Westerly Center for the Arts. After the Center for the Arts organization folded in 1991, the Chorus purchased the historic building in 1991. The building (and its main nave/hall), renowned for its exceptional acoustics, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Chorus recently completed an extensive renovation, restoration, and expansion of the building thanks to the support of the community through a capital campaign. The facility was rededicated as the George Kent Performance Hall in September 2005.