The Des Moines Choral Society – A Brief History

See also: [Season Archives]  [Past Repertoire]  [35th anniversary pdf]

In 1979 Marion A. Hall assembled a 250-member chorus to perform with the Des Moines Symphony at its inaugural concert in the new Civic Center of Greater Des Moines. Growing out of that ad hoc chorus, the Des Moines Choral Society, an auditioned choir of volunteer singers from throughout Central Iowa, has become a vital part of the Des Moines arts community. Now under the artistic direction of Dr. James Rodde, the Society continues its 37-year tradition of musical excellence, repertoire development, educational outreach, and collaborative community involvement.

From its inception, the Society has been committed to producing musical performances of the highest quality. That pursuit of musical excellence was officially recognized in 2000, when the Iowa Arts Council named the Choral Society the 2000 Best Artist/Performing Group through the Arts Build Communities Awards Program.

In addition to a commitment to excellence, the Choral Society is also dedicated to making a permanent contribution to choral literature through the commissioning of new choral works from diverse composers including Milan Kaderavek, Ben Allaway, Alf Houkom, and Eric Whitacre. In 2003 the Society expanded its vision to include the development of a new art form using choral music supplemented by commissioned scripts and accomplished actors to dramatically explore topics relevant to Iowa. With creative impetus from singer and board member J. Ann Selzer, the Society produced five programs in the Iowa Heritage Series designed both to educate and to entertain. The series was launched in May 2003 at the Civic Center for an audience of 1300. Battle Cry of Freedom featured Academy Award nominee Hal Holbrook, whose narration illuminated the contribution that Iowa made during the Civil War. Subsequent productions in this series from 2005 to 2008 highlighted diverse Iowa-focused topics: civil rights, motherhood, the environment, and immigration – each demonstrating a commitment to expanding the educational scope of our musical offerings while maintaining high musical standards.

Fulfilling another mission for the Society, choral music outreach programs over the years have served over 3000 students in Des Moines and surrounding areas. The Society also serves its community through meaningful collaborations with other arts organizations in our community. The Society has collaborated on at least 22 occasions with the Des Moines Symphony to stage major works. The Society has also collaborated with Des Moines Youth Choruses, the Heartland Youth Choir and a variety of metro high school choirs, as well as being a featured artist for the Fine Arts Series at various metro churches. Special Choral Society performances have included the premier of Cathy Lesser Mansfield’s opera The Sparks Fly Upward, a performance of Brahms’ Requiem for the 2011 American Guild of Organists convention, and Iowa Public Television’s Studio III Presents.  Recently, the Society was the featured ensemble at the 2013 World Food Prize Ceremony and performed Ben Allaway’s “The Laureate Call.”  In 2012, the Society hosted our first annual Society Celebration fund raiser, featuring celebrity singers from our community. We invite you to join us on May 3, 2014 for a fun evening of food, drink and singing!

hanks to a strong development and administrative effort initiated by the Society’s first employee, Sharon Strohmaier, the Choral Society has been able to remain financially stable throughout its history. Over the years the Choral Society has been supported by the contributions of countless individuals and businesses, and we have also received significant support from the Iowa Arts Council, the National Endowment for the Arts, Bravo Greater Des Moines, Prairies Meadows and the Gabus Family Foundation.

Each of the four Des Moines Choral Society artistic director/conductors brought different gifts to nurture this unique institution, beginning with Marion A. Hall who acted on his dream of creating a large auditioned chorus to perform major choral works. Robert Molison revitalized and refocused the Choral Society following the death of its founder. Janet Davis concentrated her efforts on 20th Century repertoire and in-school educational outreach. Bringing an unflagging pursuit of musical excellence, James Rodde focuses his efforts on nurturing the vocal skills and precision needed to create a superlative ensemble sound.              

Since that first round of auditions in 1980, the Des Moines Choral Society has attracted hundreds of accomplished and gifted singers who have shared their time and talents with the Greater Des Moines Community. Led by a gifted artistic director and a community-based volunteer board of directors, the Des Moines Choral Society maintains a commitment to excellence in performance, programming, and education that is vital to the arts scene in Des Moines.

Whether your taste runs to spirituals or to the Bach B Minor Mass or if your holiday season is not complete without Christmas with the Choral Society, this is your choir, a vital part of your community. With more than 37 years of history as a premier choir, the Des Moines Choral Society is indeed “Something to Sing About!”