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Houston Chamber Choir's 2020-21 Season Finds 'A Time To Sing'

Houston Chamber Choir takes part in an audio recording session of its first concert for A Time to Give Thanks at South Main Baptist Church.EXPAND
Houston Chamber Choir takes part in an audio recording session of its first concert for A Time to Give Thanks at South Main Baptist Church.
Photo by Jeff Grass Photography

The Grammy Award-winning Houston Chamber Choir, under the direction of Founder and Artistic Director Robert Simpson, announced its inspirational 2020-2021 virtual season, To Everything a Season. The season kicks off Sunday and includes five custom, heartfelt concert videos created to remind audiences that even in difficult times like these, beauty and joy can be found throughout life's changing seasons.

Speaking of the season's theme, Simpson cannot help but associate the tragedy of COVID-19 and the resilience that followed. "I really do feel we are in a period of time that will pass. We'll look back at this as a time that the world went through something it never anticipated but came out on the other side, and in some ways we learned things and handled situations that made us grow in good ways."

"To everything a season" references the biblical passage from Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3. Its message is that human life will have ebbs and flows, times of happiness and sorrow, periods of productivity and waste. To swing between the polar opposites is quite normal and in fact necessary to spur growth.

Simpson continued, "Last season we sang a piece by Daniel Knaggs. One of the movements is 'To Everything A Season.' Before we put the pieces together with this year, we wanted to do a virtual choir project with the Knaggs' piece. That fell into place in a way that made this season a unit. When we open our season, the video of the virtual choir singing Knaggs's composition will start the show. That will be our theme song for the entire year."

Each concert will last approximately 30 minutes and resemble a variety show format. The performances will include new music as well as videos from past performances, personal reflections and interviews in between.

Valencia Visuals and Adonay Midnight Run Productions film on set for Houston Chamber Choir's upcoming concert.EXPAND
Valencia Visuals and Adonay Midnight Run Productions film on set for Houston Chamber Choir's upcoming concert.
Photo by Jeff Grass Photography

The season explores various "times" and the lessons they bring:

A Time to Give Thanks
Sunday, November 22
The thought of singing for audiences again fills the choir with gratitude and anticipation, two feelings often associated with Thanksgiving. In this concert, two new performances will be introduced, along with personal reflections, excerpts from past performances, a sing-along and a special virtual choir project - a feast for eyes and ears. 

A Time to Bring Hope
Sunday, December 20
The Houston Chamber Choir’s annual tradition of coming together to celebrate the promise of hope and peace at Christmas continues. The company offers joyous new performances and reflections from seasons past at the beloved Villa de Matel. Singing is at the very heart of the holiday season, and the choir is eager to share favorite carols and new material from around the world. 

A Time to Lift Up
Sunday, January 31, 2021
There is nothing new in the notion that teachers are essential. However, the realization of just how resilient and fearless these professionals are has lifted them to hero status over the last several months. Tribute is paid to the indomitable spirit of music educators, and their students, with favorite sights and sounds from past "Hear the Future" Annual Choral Invitational festivals.

A Time to Journey Inward
Sunday, March 21, 2021
The revered Chinese choral conductor, Dr. Ma Geshun, offered one piece of advice to students seeking to improve – “Go deeper.” This wisdom also applies to those wishing to experience the power of sacred choral masterpieces. Join the Houston Chamber Choir on a journey inward to experience this treasured repertoire.

A Time to Draw Closer
Sunday, May 9, 2021 (Mother’s Day)
The season finale combines the exhilaration of a festival concert with the down-home welcome of a family reunion. Recent experiences have shown how important community is and how much people rely on the arts to lift their spirits and enrich their lives. This concert is especially notable since it is the world premiere of a commissioned work by esteemed Houston composer Mark Buller.

Filming outdoors relaxes some of the rules about wearing masks during recording.EXPAND
Filming outdoors relaxes some of the rules about wearing masks during recording.
Photo by Jeff Grass Photography

To create the video for its first concert, Houston Chamber Choir split the audio and visual recordings between two days.

"We recorded the music at South Main Baptist Church, spaced out 15 feet apart and wearing masks. Then, the next day, we went to Sam Houston Park, and we recorded the video using the soundtrack from the previous day. There, we were able to take our masks off. We put the audio and the visual components together, and the end product has the sense of the choir singing in this fantastic setting."

Necessity is the mother of invention, and the organization is employing creative means to continue working on upcoming concerts, sometimes using unconventional spaces for rehearsals.

"The choir is already rehearsing for the Christmas concert. We have two more rehearsals before we make the recording. The first rehearsal is in the outdoor parking garage of the Christ Church Cathedral. We're outdoors with lots of free flowing air, masks and social distancing, but it's not easy to hear. That gives us a chance to get the music started, and this coming weekend, we'll move into South Main Baptist Church and take advantage of its beautiful acoustics."

Choir members take to Sam Houston Park for the filming of their Digital Stage programming.EXPAND
Choir members take to Sam Houston Park for the filming of their Digital Stage programming.
Photo by Jeff Grass Photography

The season marks the first time Houston Chamber Choir has returned to making music since it ceased performing in March, as well as its first concert since winning the Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance in January.

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"I will never get used to saying the Grammy Award-winning Houston Chamber Choir. That will always come as a surprise to me. It's not that I think we were an unworthy recipient, but there are so many factors that go into a Grammy win that no one can ever take a Grammy for granted. This will always be the greatest joy to me," Simpson said. "We went from the mountain top of the Grammy win to the despair of cancelling our season. Coming back this season and finding a way to make music together has an extra quality of satisfaction and sweetness to it. We are in one sense unchanged by the Grammy because we weren't thinking about it as the 'must-have.' We just did what we love to do, and in the back of our minds, we have the great joy of knowing we're on the list of Grammy winners."

To bridge the divide between the abrupt end of its last season and this season, the organization created a podcast "With One Accord," dropping every Monday and Friday at noon. Described as a “one-stop shop for choral joy,” the series spotlights performances by the Houston Chamber Choir and choral ensembles around the nation with Simpson, the personalities of the Houston Chamber Choir on “Behind the Music” with arts and culture expert St. John Flynn, and the choral world’s rising stars on “Education Spotlight” with arts education enthusiast April Harris. Simpson notes the podcast has an indefinite timeline now that the chorus is performing again, but for the moment, it can be found on  the organization's website. It is also available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify Podcasts, Anchor and YouTube.

To Everything a Season will be available online, accessible from any location in the world using a computer or smart device. An annual subscription for the entire season can be purchased for $40 with a 50 percent introductory coupon available on its website. The season pass provides unlimited viewing of five concerts on the Houston Chamber Choir Digital Stage, in addition to access to curated content and extras. A rental option is available for $9.99, with individual access to the concert for three days. Alternately, one can purchase unlimited access to the preferred concert from the Houston Chamber Choir Digital Sound Stage for $24.99 or choose the set-your-own-price option.

Houston Chamber Choir's "To Everything A Season" kicks off digitally on Sunday, November 22 and runs through May 9, 2021. To purchase tickets, visit houstonchamberchoir.org. $9.99 - $40.

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