How does a choral society from Maine celebrate its 50th anniversary? With more than 100 voices coming together in Vivaldi’s “Gloria” in a big old barn within a stone’s throw from lighthouses.

ChoralArt members past and present gathered May 21 at the Cape Elizabeth home of longtime singers Red and Louise Sullivan.

“ChoralArt has been such an amazing and important part of our lives for so many years,” said Red Sullivan, adding that he and Louise joined more than four decades ago.

In addition to serving hors d’oeuvres, drinks and cake, event organizers distributed bright yellow songbooks of some of the community choral group’s favorites, composed by the likes of Mozart, Schubert and Brahms. Guests lent their voices to the ensemble, many of them for the first time in years – or decades – with no rehearsal.

“We were both in fear about singing, because it has been so long,” said Joanne Anderson of Gorham, who was part of the ensemble in the 1970s with her husband, Karl. “But it came back quicker than I expected.”

Hundreds of singers from southern Maine and beyond have performed with Portland-based ChoralArt – formerly The Choral Art Society – in the half century since the group’s first performance in March 1973. Peter Plumb, who has been singing since the beginning, outlined how the small nonprofit forms volunteers into a cohesive and artistic unit: good leadership, a variety of music styles and venues, and selective auditions.


When the original director, Harold Brown, was preparing to retire in 1978, the chorus auditioned a half dozen candidates for his successor. “We liked a 29-year-old fellow who had a new doctorate,” Plumb said. “And Robert Russell has been our fearless leader ever since.”

All these years later, Russell has retired from teaching music and choral studies at the University of Southern Maine. But he continues directing ChoralArt, which includes some of his former university students, like soprano Molly Harmon (who was a soloist in “Carmina Burano” with Friends of Kotzschmar Organ last fall).

“If you had told me 44 years ago that ChoralArt would become what it is today, I wouldn’t have believed it,” Russell said. “We took it one step at a time. And now we have three ensembles – small, medium and large – and they’re all great.”

The highly selective 16-voice ChoralArt Camerata performs an annual Epiphany celebration and a spring concert. The 50-voice ChoralArt Singers puts on an annual Christmas at the Cathedral series. And the 100-voice ChoralArt Masterworks sings symphonic choral literature with the Portland Symphony Orchestra each year.

The next opportunity to catch a ChoralArt performance is a collaboration with Portland Symphony Orchestra, “Opening Night: Visual Sounds,” Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 at Merrill Auditorium in Portland.

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at

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