July 1, 2013

Chamber Singers alumni gather for reunion concert by Elizabeth Richards

Twenty-five years of magical music was celebrated on Saturday, June 22, when singers from all over the country reunited for a Windham Chamber Singers Reunion Concert. Dr. Rick Nickerson, founder and conductor of the Windham Chamber Singers, called the concert one of the proudest moments of his teaching career. “It was unbelievable,” he said. “It was so fascinating on Saturday to see them all just come together through this common bond.” 

This isn’t the first musical reunion. Five years ago, the group held a 20th reunion, which was such a success that they knew they had to do it again at 25 years, said Nickerson. Both reunions were intentionally scheduled for the same weekend as Summerfest. “We’re bringing people home from all over the country, and I’ve always said what a better time to bring them home than the very day you’re celebrating your community,” said Nickerson. During breaks in rehearsal, the singers are out and about, walking through the Summerfest activities. “They’re running into people they haven’t seen for years and otherwise wouldn’t get to see,” Nickerson added.   This year, though it briefly looked as though Summerfest might not happen, the concert would have gone on. “Thankfully, it really developed into a great day for our town.”  Nickerson said.  He would like to see Summerfest, which is all about celebrating community, expanded into a three day event, and encourage classes to have their reunions at that time each year. “It’s just a really great time to come home,” he said.

Community was a large focus for the group this weekend. “We would not be what we are without the support of our community. That’s another reason it was important for me to have this event on the day we celebrate our community,” Nickerson said.

Amy (Damron) Kyle, a chamber singer for four years in the mid 90s, including the year the group went to Vienna, said having a great community has allowed the group to do things that are unusual for a town the size of Windham. “It’s just amazing what [Dr. Nickerson] has been able to do, and it speaks well of him and the support of the community.  Windham is an amazing community,” she said.  The support that the chamber singers have received allowed things like travelling to Vienna, singing at Carnegie Hall, and bringing Broadway performers to the community to happen. “It’s a unique experience for a smaller town,” Kyle said. “It’s like all the stars align. A great community and an energetic, enthusiastic and knowledgeable teacher come together, and I think magic happens.”

The Chamber Singers have spent a whole year celebrating their 25th anniversary. They wanted this reunion to be more than just rehearsals and a culminating concert Nickerson said. The weekend included a social event on Friday evening, rehearsal and concert on Saturday, and a family barbeque on Sunday. “It was so wonderful to see students who haven’t seen each other for sometimes 20 years, and were really close at one point in their life, and how those years just evaporate. It becomes, all of a sudden, 1996 again,” Nickerson said.

The reunion gave alumni a chance to see old friends and reminisce about their experiences, but also to relive those experiences a little bit. “Typically when you go to a reunion, you rekindle friendships, but you talk about what you did in high school. In this reunion we got to actually do it – we didn’t talk about singing, we actually sang,” said Nickerson.

Kyle said she’s more motivated to attend a reunion of the chamber singers than her regular high school reunion because of the shared experiences. “Being in a choir is a little bit like being on a sports team, but sometimes I feel it’s a little bit more intense because it’s focused on the emotions and the  emotional experience that comes with expressing an art form,” she said. Even though there were many people she hadn’t gone to school with at the reunion, she said, “It didn’t really matter because we had this shared experience of being in the same choir.” And although she mostly sings solo now, she added, “This is the one choir I like to come back and sing in because it has so much emotional memory with it.”

While Nickerson didn’t take a count of how many alumni returned, somewhere between 120-150 sang at the concert. “Anyone who has ever sung in the Windham Chamber Singers was invited,” he said. The process of inviting alumni back was several months of Facebook, email, letters to the editor in local newspapers – any kind of outreach they could think of. “I knew it was not realistic that we were going to get everybody. What I was hoping we could do is that at least everybody knew about it,” said Nickerson.

The concert opened with the current chamber singers, and moved into alumni pieces. Many of the alumni have gone on to professional careers, but others haven’t sung since high school, said Nickerson. The challenge this presents means the pieces performed must be chosen carefully. “You want to pick pieces that you know most of students have sung, and the others will pick it up quickly,” Nickerson said.  The performance also included a short slide show of the past 25 years, as well as alumni speaking of their memories and experiences in the Windham Chamber Singers. A limited edition compilation CD was released Saturday night, with recordings from the past 25 years. 

Nickerson said they are also investigating the possibility of doing an alumni tour in Ireland next July.
Nickerson’s favorite moment during the weekend was sitting back to watch his former students, and the smiles on their faces. “I can’t even tell you how proud I was. It was just an ultimate moment for a teacher,” he said. “The sound was one of the finest sounds we’ve ever had on our stage.”

For more information on purchasing the CD or about the Windham Chamber Singers, visit their website at www.windhamchambersingers.com

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