By Linda Sisson
In 1990 a new choral group was started by a music studio in downtown Bangor operated by Darrell and Nina Rhodes. In 1991 the group decided to become incorporated as an independent, non-profit, and moved into its own rehearsal space. The group’s first artistic director was Bronwyn Kortge. Bronwyn loved early music and the group enthusiastically embraced her suggestion, New Renaissance Singers, for their name. From the beginning, NRS was open to all with no auditions. The first concert they gave in the spring of 1991 was held at John Bapst High School, with the two dozen chorus members sporting pastel colored cummerbunds for the women and bow ties for the men.
For the next few years, NRS rehearsed in a space on the third floor of the building now housing Giacomo’s in the heart of downtown Bangor. Subsequent rehearsal homes included the First Methodist Church in Bangor, the Catholic Church of Brewer, Columbia Street Baptist Church, and the First Congregational Church of Brewer, our current home.
Since those early years, NRS has performed in a wide variety of venues including area churches, assisted living facilities, the Bangor Library, the Cyrus Pavilion Theater in Orono, on a Fourth of July parade float, and even in a rock concert with Foreigner in Rockport. For the last few years NRS has also provided choral music for the Hospice Memorial Service.
Nancy Averill, a current member who has been part of the NRS for all twenty-five years recalls that the group sang a lot of early music in the beginning, practiced year-round, and gave four concerts a year! A founding member, Roxanne Munksgaard, fondly recalls an early concert featuring madrigals performed in Renaissance costumes at the Cyrus Pavilion.
Since then the range of music sung by NRS has been eclectic: an early Halloween Concert included a song written by Bronwyn called “Macbeth’s Witches” with lyrics by Shakespeare; a few years later the group performed Faure’s Requiem under the direction of Ann Mills. Today Molly Webster continues to select music from the whole spectrum of choral singing from early music (16th and 17th centuries) to contemporary compositions. The twenty-fifth anniversary concert includes an early madrigal, music from the 18th and 19th centuries by Mozart, Brahms, and Beethoven, and three contemporary pieces. Two of the newer pieces are exquisite choral settings by young composers of poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Emily Dickinson. The third new piece is a setting of a poem “Everyone Sang” by Siegfried Sassoon and was composed by Andrew Hirst especially for the NRS 25th anniversary.
A choral director selects music, coaches the sections in learning their parts, teaches vocal techniques and inspires the chorus to create a beautiful, blended sound. Since 1991 the New Renaissance Singers have enjoyed the leadership of many talented Directors:
- 1991-1993 Bronwyn Kortge
- 1994 Steve Grives
- 1994-1995 Lenore Hample
- 1996 Ann Mills
- 1997-2003 Sandra Blanchette
- 2004 Steve Estey
- 2004-2009 Laura Green Estey
- 2010-2012 Drew Albert
- 2012-2016 Molly Webster
Since 2006 NRS has been accompanied faithfully and joyfully by Dora Rexrode, making this year her tenth anniversary!
NRS has also been supported by the work of its Board of Directors. Under the leadership of current Board President, Tricia Griffith, in 2013 NRS started a scholarship fund to encourage the participation of young people in choral singing, by providing scholarship support to Bangor Area Children’s Choir and the University of Maine’s summer youth music program. Past President Pamela Ware says, “It’s a big job and Tricia is terrific at doing it.”
With each new member who joins us in song, our lives are enriched. Marie Harrington, the second person who has been with the chorus for all twenty-five years and has served on our Board, says the best part of singing with NRS has been all the wonderful people she has known through the years. We are always welcoming of new voices, so if you like to sing and are willing to make the commitment to weekly rehearsals, please join us and become part of the next 25 years of NRS history.