As if building two new choruses simultaneously was not enough trouble in itself, choir director Richard Loatman is driven by a powerful ulterior motive. He would like to take both the newly-established 22-person Capital Singers and the 75-member Trenton Community Chorus into politics. Non-partisan politics, that is.
Immediately after two late January performances entitled “Winter Songs,” Loatman and his singers will spread word of the ensembles’ availability for civic events. The concerts, featuring both choruses, take place Friday, January 26, at 7:30 p.m. in St. Ann’s Church in Bristol, Pennsylvania; and Sunday, January 28, at 4 p.m. in St. James’ Church in Trenton.
In an interview from his Trenton home, Loatman says, “I wanted, number one, to see if we could function. We only rehearse once a month, while other choruses rehearse once a week. Most choruses get to rehearse every week (which would be nice) but we decided to take a different path. We want to make the best music with the least amount of rehearsal time! Out of necessity, chorus members are expected to work on their music at home and bring their musicianship, intellect, and outside experience to our rehearsals.”
So where do non-partisan politics come in? Says Loatman: “We hope to participate in political events where they need the `Star Spangled Banner’ or patriotic songs. We might do swearings-in or county and state events. We’re not interested in satire. We aim to provide a service for the city and the community. As we move forward after the January concerts and begin to serve the greater Trenton comunity with concerts and, hopefully, political or community events, I expect our motto will be something like ‘Your City, Your Chorus’ This statement says something considerable about our mission and the kind of organization/chorus we plan to become.”
Loatman unveiled the new groups at an inaugural concert in October. However, they have not officially gone public yet, he says. The organizations are still inching their way into existence. The October concert was a survey of choral compositions from madrigals through Johann Sebastian Bach to contemporary pieces. “The major piece was ‘The Awakening’ by Joseph Martin. It pays homage to music itself. The last line is ‘Let music sing.’ It’s a vision of peace and getting along and will probably become our signature piece,” he says.
The winter season is the focus of the January concerts, though not every song has to do with winter. Five versions of the Christmas carol “In The Bleak Mid-Winter” are scattered within the program. Gustav Holst’s version is probably the most famous of the lot, Loatman says. “We’re also taking the first verse from four other versions. One is contemporary and sort of strange. One is haunting and tender. One is for men’s voices. And one is for women’s voices.”
The featured piece on the program is Daniel Pinkham’s “Christmas Cantata.” Pinkham, who died last month, wrote the piece in 1957, when he was 34 and teaching at Harvard. The piece has a double appeal for Loatman. “First of all, we wanted to do something with instruments,” he says. “And one of the practical things was that we already had the music.” The Capital Singers perform a version of the piece that calls for accompaniment by brass quintet and organ.
Appearing with the chorus are the Lighthouse Brass Quintet, which has been together since 1988. Members of the ensemble include director John Dondero and Dave Seals, trumpets; J.R. Reed, French horn; Herb Roselle, trombone; and Jeff Vanaman, tuba. Choir accompanist Tim Brown plays organ for the Pinkham piece. Flutist Sister Teresa Haug also performs.
The Lighthouse Brass Quintet appears without singers in three pieces: a Prelude, a Postlude, and a spot before intermission, when they play two dances from Michael Praetorius’ “Terpsichore” of 1612.
“One of the problems with brass instruments,” says Loatman, “is that they’re loud. So we brought in four extra singers. Besides that, the Pinkham is rhythmically difficult. I’ve worked with the chorus on being precise about the rhythms; the brass players will want us to be exact. We have to be in time and in synch. Sometimes, when a chorus is singing alone it gets relaxed rhythmically. “Singing with the brasses is a nice change in texture,” Loatman adds. “It’s festive.”
The choruses appearing in the January concerts grew out of Schola Cantorum, a mixed chorus coordinated by Nancy Paolini, music director of Saint James Church, at the request of Father Albert M. Anuszewski for a Christmas concert in 2005. Paolini turned to Loatman, her vocal coach, for help.
Early in 2006 Loatman converted Schola Cantorum into a permanent pair of ensembles: Capital Singers, a core group of 22 singers whom he chose, and the larger 75-member Trenton Community Chorus. “The Trenton Community Chorus consists of people who have sung with me in other venues or whom I’ve taught,” Loatman says. “For the most part, I made the phone calls myself. I asked people if they wanted to sing in a chorus where the commitment was small but the music was exemplary. A few members come from St. James’ Church. A lot of the men are from the New Jersey Gay Men’s Chorus [which Loatman used to direct]. Some members belong to the Voices Chorale in Princeton. We rehearse on Sunday nights in order to avoid the regular rehearsals of the other choruses. Sunday’s a dark night.”
There are no auditions for the Trenton Community Singers, Loatman says. “It’s open to anyone who wants to sing and can attend rehearsals. There’s no fee. We provide the music.”
The Capital Singers were handpicked by Loatman. “My criteria were: dedication to the group, vocal experience, a voice that I thought would blend and grow with the chorus, and a certain sense of dedication to the idea of performing and not getting paid.
“I like a rich and round color for this chorus,” Loatman says, “unless it’s pop music or spirituals. I want a legitimate sound for classical music. Sometimes when you listen to choruses, there’s a hollowness or reediness to the sound. I like something warmer and fuller. It’s hard to get voices to blend in a full way if a singer has a reedy or hollow sound. I suspect that every conductor elicits the sound that comes from his own inner ear. We’re all trying by teaching, and conducting, to realize the sound we hear in our head.”
The choruses are very much a volunteer activity. “All of us are doing this for free,” Loatman says. “We’re trying to exist on ticket sales and donations. Eventually, we’ll get into applying for grants.
“The Board is the singers except for one person, the treasurer, who is not a singer,” Loatman says. “Our agenda was to fashion a chorus the way we saw our vision, in other words, to get the singers to do as much of the work as possible. If we grow we’ll have to reach out. That will be fine, too.”
Loatman plans to have two concerts a year, in January and June, and will prepare a brochure in the summer of 2007. At this stage, they are publicizing via posters, flyers, and postcards sent to about 500 people, a mailing list comprised mainly of friends.
Born in Bridgeton, New Jersey, in 1947, Loatman grew up in a family of four boys and one girl. “My mother was the musician of the family,” he says. “She was the organist in church and encouraged me to sing in the choir.” She was his first piano teacher. He started both piano and church choir participation at age five.
Loatman’s father had a sixth grade education. “He worked at DuPont in Wilmington and managed homes and apartments as a caretaker,” Loatman says. “He was an avid watcher of and listener to the news. He could argue on any subject. His lack of education was not a problem like it would be today.”
At Westminster Choir College, now a part of Rider University, Loatman majored in music education with emphasis in piano. He became a member of Westminster’s 40-voice touring choir during his senior year. “Although I sang,” he says, “I was invited to join because I was a good pianist. Once I got there, I changed my opinion of myself as a singer, and switched from piano to voice.” As a graduate student at Westminster Choir College and the College of New Jersey, he switched from voice to conducting.
During the course of his generation-long career Loatman has directed more than 75 productions at Rider College, the Pennington Players, Princeton Community Players, Mercer College, Lawrence High School, and Bristol Riverside Theater, among others.
He was producing director of Lawrenceville’s Notre Dame High School performing arts program for 15 years. John Dondero, director and trumpeter in the brass quintet that appears in the January concerts was the instrumental director at the school. “His wife, Ellen, was my assistant at Notre Dame,” Loatman says. “We had all worked together before. For the winter concerts we’re keeping it in the family.”
In 1997 Loatman joined the New Jersey Gay Men’s Chorus. “I joined simply to have the opportunity to sing. I wanted to just sing and not have to call the shots. I wanted to do music with which I was not acquainted before.” In 1998 Loatman was appointed artistic director, replacing Jay Kawarsky, the founder and former director. “It was the only singularly male chorus I conducted,” he says.
Loatman left the Gay Men’s Chorus in 2001. His final concert was the 10th year tribute at Trinity Episcopal Church in Princeton on June 2, 2001. “I had lead the chorus in a new direction for my tenure and was ready to move on to other professional opportunities. The group has done very well in my absence. I go regularly to their concerts. There’s no bad blood.”
Now semi-retired, Loatman teaches voice and piano privately at his home to about 40 students. He points out that that comes to about a 40-hour week. In addition he teaches general music one day a week at Trenton’s International Charter School.
In his full schedule the Capital Singers and the Trenton Community Chorus have high priority. “We want to highlight Trenton as a place to visit and a place to live,” he says. “We would like to contribute to the cultural development of the city.”
Always, Loatman keeps his political agenda within his sights. “I would be honored if we became the official state chorus,” he says. “That’s a major goal. But it’s premature. We’re only a year old.”
Winter Song Concert, Capital Singers and Trenton Community Chorus, Friday, January 26, 7:30 p.m., St. Ann’s Church, 357 Dorrance Street, Bristol, PA, 215-788-2128; and Sunday, January 28, 4 p.m., St. James’ Church, 29 East Paul Avenue, Trenton, 609-393-4403.