'Norwalk Choral Suite' to premiere at Ernsthausen Performing Arts Center

Cary Ashby • Apr 14, 2019 at 10:00 AM

The Norwalk High School Select Choir and Firelands Symphony Chorale will perform together in a choral festival that will celebrate many genres.

The 2019 Norwalk Choral Festival will be at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Ernsthausen Performing Arts Center at NHS. Featured in the free concert will be music that embodies the styles that came alive in the 20th century, from ragtime to Dixieland, swing, blues and jazz.

Being premiered at the concert is the “Norwalk Choral Suite,” which will be performed by the combined choirs. Geotrac Foundation trustee Samantha Wilhem said the Norwalk-based, private, family foundation commissioned a group of Scottish musicians to “compose a very special piece of music.”

“It originally was written for the high schoolers,” added Wilhelm, who has been a Geotrac trustee for five years. 

The choirs will sing two of the five movements in the “Norwalk Choral Suite.”

NHS choral director Carol Mason said she and her students “are delighted to be participating” in the performance with the 40-plus members of the Firelands Symphony Chorale. The student choir will sing “Carry Me Home” and “Windy Nights” on its own and then the combined ensembles will perform two Rogers and Hammerstein classics — “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and “Climb Every Mountain” — to end the concert.

“We have been rehearsing the jazz suite off and on since January and are excited to showcase this work together. A very special thank-you to Michael Shirtz for partnering with us through a challenging yet rewarding musical experience,” Mason said, referring to the Firelands Symphony Chorale director.

The suite uses jazz and blues, mixed with the musical traditions of Scotland, Hebrew poems and world folk music for a story line that embraces multiple cultures, nations and generations.

Wilhelm said she hopes this performance will provide high-school musicians an opportunity for a professional experience while also showing them that “singing can be taken beyond the classroom.”

The 2019 Norwalk Choral Festival is made possible by the generous support of the Geotrac Foundation.

Geotrac, according to its website, focuses on “expanding horizons and bringing the world to Norwalk, one person at a time.” The foundation has been providing grants in Norwalk since 2005. Wilhelm said Geotrac focuses on promoting educational and cultural experiences.

Shirtz, who directs the chorale, said the Rogers and Hammerstein closers provide “the perfect message for all ages as we enter into the spring season with graduations and celebrations of life journeys ahead.”

A jazz artist, composer and conductor, Shirtz is known for his versatility with contemporary and traditional music audiences. As a recording artist and producer, he performs regularly with his group, the Michael Shirtz Quintet. He also has worked with such artists as the late jazz pianist Dave Brubeck, singers Elizabeth von Trapp and Melissa Manchester, among others. Shirtz currently writes and performs with Maureen McGovern.

Shirtz is managed by OCM Productions and lives in Sandusky with his wife Pamela.

The Firelands Symphony Chorale is an auditioned choir of singers that serves as the chorus-in-residence for the Firelands Symphony Orchestra and its school of music. The chorale performs classical, contemporary and American music.

Norwalk resident Morgan Savage, who joined the group in March, said singing with the ensemble has been “incredibly rewarding.” She said the musicality of the group truly hit home during a “really cool moment in our last rehearsal” when the singers hit a particular chord.

Savage sees joining the chorale as “doing it for the long haul.” 

“I’m loving every second of it,” she said. “It’s very much a family.”

Shirtz said he hopes people who attend Wednesday’s concert will “enjoy this tribute to American, world and choral music.”

“We are very excited to be joining with Norwalk's select choir to present this concert that pays tribute to America's musical sound and culture around the world through the celebration of choral music and singing. This will be a great program of inspiration, faith and community,” he added.

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