Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Passing the baton

Caritas Chorale turns over the reins to a familiar friend

Express Staff Writer

Dick Brown is moving to Montana after retiring his baton at Caritas Chorale, which he founded 15 years ago.
Express photo by Roland Lane

    R.L. Rowsey thought he was in heaven when he sat in the bass section of the newly minted Caritas Chorale 14 years ago.
    It was further sanction on his move to the valley, which was “a continuation of my guiding mantra throughout my career: Try to find the place where your voice is needed, where it’s heard clearly, and where you make a difference.
    “I don’t stay anywhere for 14 years,” he continued, when asked about taking over for Chorale founder Dick Brown this coming weekend. “OK, I’ve never stayed anywhere for 14 years before now. I’ve stayed because I have continued to find places in this valley where I feel of service, where my voice feels free and where I seem to be part of teams that are making a difference.”
    Over the years, the dexterous Rowsey has quietly and happily assumed more responsibility, and still he was gobsmacked when he got the official invite to take over.
    “Anytime that you can take the reins from a founder of an arts organization, it is a deep responsibility. And both because of my love of the chorale and my respect for Dick’s work, I feel humbled and honored and excited and just a bit giddy as I take over.”
    Such a monumental changing of the guard deserves a lofty celebration.
    And so, “Spring into Song” will be. The event will celebrate the past 15 years of Brown’s leadership of Caritas as he heads into retirement, handing the baton over to Rowsey.
    The evenings will feature a wine reception with hors d’oeuvres. The party will be held at the Gail Severn Gallery, 400 First Ave. N., on Saturday and Sunday, June 7 and 8, at 5:30 p.m. It will feature Brown leading the chorale one last time with favorite American songs. 
    Appropriately, one of the pieces will be a medley from “Porgy and Bess,” reflecting Brown’s early years growing up in the South, followed by another medley from the Broadway show and movie “Paint Your Wagon,” which touches the second half of his journey.
    Dick Brightman, board president of Caritas Chorale, explained Brown’s connection.
    “As he related to the chorus at a recent rehearsal, ‘Paint your Wagon’ evokes for him the days when his parents put everyone in the car and headed West, rambling and exploring the mountain states. 
    “As Dick says, ‘When we got somewhere at the end of a day of travel, my Dad would announce, “Let’s go see the town!’”
    It was those early memories that led Dick and his wife Billie to come west after a full career as a cello player in symphony orchestras, and then a conductor, teacher and choral director. 
    That’s how he happened to arrive in Challis, Idaho, in 1994 where he founded a popular summer choir gathering called “Choral Rendezvous” that is celebrating its 20th anniversary this summer.
    It was there that he met singers from Sun Valley and he got the idea of settling in the Wood River Valley and forming the choral group that became Caritas Chorale in 1999.  This was the beginning of a 15-year sojourn that included teaching music at the Community School, being music director of St. Thomas Playhouse shows, and directing music at St. Thomas Episcopal Church.  For a while, Brown also directed Anam Cara, the Chamber Choir of Idaho, in Idaho Falls.
    After forming the Chorale, Brown’s work brought to the valley, for the first time, concerts of major choral symphonic works, by Brahms, Mozart, Dvorak, Beethoven and many others, most recently Handel’s “Messiah” in April, giving local singers the unforgettable experience of singing these works with an orchestra.
    Under his leadership, Caritas has sung pop and Broadway and all kinds of other music as well.
    Along the way, opportunities arose for Rowsey to sit at the piano and he then became the assistant conductor.
    “It has been wonderful to support Dick through these past few years. What an honor to help him realize his vision for the group,” Rowsey said. “Without putting words in his mouth, I would say his work has been around bringing dynamic, large choral works to the valley. It’s been about creating new works. It’s been about building a community of singers who share a common goal.  Dick has poured his life into cultivating this group.”
    Brown was instrumental (pun intended) in conceiving and persuading Caritas to commission two major choral compositions celebrating the experiences of Lewis and Clark and the history and saga of the Nez Perce people, written by Diane Josephy Peavey and composed by Davis Alan Earnest, that had their world premieres in Sun Valley.
    Brown has not only provided the leadership that made it possible for both singers and local audiences to have the opportunity to participate in some of the world’s greatest music, but still educates and entertains locals in his pre-opera talks at Big Wood Cinema presentations of the Metropolitan Opera in HD. 
    Heading soon for Helena, Montana, the Browns will not be too far away.
    “I’m just trading in my baton for a fly rod!”
    Rowsey said he will take it slowly at first, allowing an organic relationship to form with the crew and board.
    “And at the same time dive into some of the things that absolutely float my boat.  We’re going to spend the first year looking at choral music from an American perspective.”
    He said the public will see a calendar of events soon, which will include some community sing-along nights.
    Following each concert will be an informal chat and singing share.
    “Our concerts will turn the spotlight almost exclusively on the chorale,” he said. “Smaller works. I want time to find out how we might communicate with each other.  I want to remind the community that they are welcome to come and join us as active participants or invested audiences.”
    No longer questioning his move to the valley, Rowsey said now, “I’m wondering what it will be like when I’ve been here for year 20 or 25.”

Two chances to sing goodbye
“Spring into Song”
When: Saturday and Sunday, June 7 and June 8, at 5:30 p.m.
Where: Gail Severn Gallery, 400 First Ave. N., Ketchum.
What: Celebrate the past 15 years of Dick Brown’s leadership of Caritas as he heads into retirement, handing the baton over to R.L. Rowsey. A wine reception with hors d’oeuvres, and Brown leading the chorale one last time.
Tickets: $40.


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