A group of more than 150 singers and musicians gathers each week during the academic year to form the Masterworks Chorale at Shepherd University. Choir members range from freshman vocal students to elderly members of the Shepherdstown community. They come together to perform in one of the largest musical ensembles in the region.
The Masterworks Chorale, which has about 135 singers, is led by Erik Jones, director of Choral Activities at Shepherd University. Jones has directed the chorale group for the last eight years. Half of the choir's members are students at the university. The other half are members of the community. The group performs with a full orchestra, which plays the music of master composers like Beethoven, Brahms, Handel, Haydn and Mozart.
"We practice every Monday during school time.It is offered as a class and as an audit for those who want to participate from the community. There is lots of support from locals, and it is one of the largest chorale groups in the region," Jones said.
Director Erik Jones conducts the Masterworks Chorale Group. The group performed Faure’s Requiem on November 10, in Saint Charles Catholic Church in Charles Town. Photo by Mary Power.
Some community members have participated for over 15 years.
Joie Verheul, a vocal performance senior and soprano section leader, said the community involvement is part of what make Masterworks Chorale group so special.
"I really like the fact that Dr. Jones calls it a "Town and Gown" choir. And I really like getting to work with the community members as well as the students. Bringing everybody together is a really important thing, especially in a small town community like this," said Verheul.
"People can come here, they can work with Dr. Jones, and they can really have experience with professionals in the field and us, and we can all kind of grow and learn together. It makes a great sense of community for us," said Mark Adelsberger, a tenor section leader.
Community involvement is not the only thing that makes the Masterworks Chorale unique. The group performs pieces that are from the last three hundred years of choral works.
On Nov. 5, in Saint James Catholic Church, in Charles Town, the sound of Latin and a full orchestra soared through the rafters. The church hosted the Masterworks Chorale's first performance of the semester. After 22 hours of choral practice, the group performed two Requiem Masses for a crowd of family members and music lovers.
Jillian Wiley, Masterworks manager and a vocal performance senior at Shepherd University, said the pieces the group performs are what makes it unique.
"I really enjoy the large works that we do, " said Wiley. "This semester we're doing Faure's Requiem and Schubert's Mass in G Major, and they're all just beautiful works. It's really cool to be a part of a 135-person choir. It's a very large sound and a bit of an adrenaline rush because it's so loud."
The choir performs two pieces every semester in two concurrent performances. Jones said the hardest part of his job each semester is selecting pieces that expose students and the community to different kinds of music. Over the last few years the choir has performed pieces including Mozart's Requiem Mass in D Minor, Carmina Burana, and Mendelssohn's Elijah.
"I think it's a fantastic thing. It gives community members exposure to the music that we're studying, and it gives us the opportunity to sing or play the music that we are studying, from whatever era it may be from," Adelsberger said.
This is the first year the group has performed with a guest conductor. Stephen Czarkowski is the music director and Conductor of the Apollo Chamber Orchestra, Conductor of the Symphonette at Landon, Associate Conductor of Opera Camerata of Washington, D.C. and the Artistic Director and Conductor of the Frederick Regional Youth Choir. He conducted Schubert's Mass in G Major at the concert in November.
Jones said the size and scope of the pieces they cover drives community involvement.
"Part of our success in having such a large ensemble here in Jefferson County is that there is a great burning need and desire to sing this wonderful music," said Jones. "The opportunity out here to sing with such a wonderful ensemble and a full orchestra has not been a common one in this area. The presence of Masterworks really brought forward a desire to sing this music."
To get involved with the Masterworks Chorale email Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org.