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Cantemus Women’s Choir will usher in fifth season with 'Mozart and More'

Suzi McKee • Sep 25, 2018 at 10:30 AM

In 2014, Patty Denmark, the assistant choir director at Dobyns-Bennett, and Jane Morison, the artistic director of the Mountain Empire Children’s Choral Academy, were attending the American Choral Director’s Association Conference in Florida listening to exceptional choirs from around the country. “During one particularly good concert, I told Jane I wished we had a women’s choir in Kingsport,” Patty began, “and her immediate response to me was ‘Well, start one!’”

And that’s exactly what Patty did.

Patty had the tools and the background to start a choir, so she contacted friend and mentor Dr. David Hendricksen, director of The Civic Chorale in Johnson City, to help her. Her main concern was that there was already a host of established choirs in the area and she wondered if the idea could work. She also knew she would need to have a talented collaborative pianist for the choir to be successful. At Dr. Hendricksen’s suggestion, Patty met with Erin Raines, who was a recent Milligan graduate and had been their student accompanist. Erin agreed to take the position and continues to accompany Cantemus, as well as accompanying the Milligan College and ETSU choirs. After securing a very capable pianist, and determined to follow her dream, Patty began to spread the word through colleagues and social media about the new women’s choir forming. “I also personally contacted singers I thought might be interested,” she explained.

After auditions, the original 18 members were selected, and Cantemus Women’s Choir was born.

“I took a real leap of faith,” Patty continued, “because rehearsals started one week after auditions, so I actually had to buy the music before I knew I’d even have enough singers to make up a choir.”

Cantemus’ first performance was on Oct. 26, 2014. “It was an amazing night, with a large and appreciative audience. The women of the choir had worked extremely hard and performed a moving and beautiful concert. Immediately afterwards, women who had attended the concert asked to audition for the choir, and the growth of the choir has continued ever since,” Denmark said. There are currently 30 singers in the choir.

Two years ago, the organization achieved a milestone by becoming a 501(c)(3) entity which means they established a working board of directors and could receive donations that can be tax deductible. In its four short years of existence, Cantemus (a Latin word which means “Let us sing!”) has performed at the Rossini Festival in Knoxville, Biltmore’s Candlelight Christmas Evenings, and the Women in Song Festival, and has collaborated with the Appalachian Men’s Ensemble. In the summer of 2019, the choir will be participating in the 15th Annual Festival of the Aegean in Syros, Greece.

The choir’s fifth anniversary season will kick off at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 30, at Waverly Road Presbyterian Church in Kingsport. The performance is entitled “Mozart and More” and will open with the same piece that was used at the first performance four seasons ago.

“I can’t believe it’s our fifth season already,” exclaimed Patty, who beamed with pride at the accomplishments of this unique, outstanding choir. “We have singers from all around our region, from all walks of life and of all ages, from teen to retirement, and they are all brought together by a common love of singing and bringing that gift of music to the Tri-Cities.”

The Cantemus Women’s Choir has auditions twice each year - once in early August before the season begins and once in January before the spring rehearsals get underway. “If anyone is interested in joining us, they can certainly contact me even though we are between regularly scheduled auditions. It is possible that there will be openings in the choir for our Christmas program,” Patty said. For more information about the group, contact cantemuswomenschoir@gmail.com or visit www.cantemuswomenschoir.org.

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