To bring great choral music to the Northern Virginia area is the sole purpose of the Master Singers of Virginia. Founded and directed by Erik Reid Jones, conductor and composer, the group is celebrating its 10th season with works by world-renowned composers such as Veljo Tormis and Frank Martin. Jones' vision for the group was to bring awareness of quality choral music to the area. "The Northern Virginia area was in such a need for music of this magnitude," Jones said. He wanted to make the art more accessible to Northern Virginians and provide them with a place, within proximity, in which they could go to appreciate the art.
THE MASTER SINGERS focus on 20th and 21st century choral music, something that many people today don't understand. "The music we sing not only challenges us, but it challenges the audience as well, it is music that most people are not familiar with," said baritone Alan Sooke.
To get back to the core of great music, Jones selects mainly a cappella songs for the group to perform. "A cappella music is my passion," Jones said, "it enables the listener to hear the complexity of the music without being overwhelmed by it."
This 28-member group consists of people of all ages, ranging from mid-20s to mid-50s and includes doctors, teachers, mortgage brokers, and even a Rhodes Scholar.
Every member of Master Singers of Virginia has studied music at some point, and has a passion for expressing themselves musically. The most important quality that Jones looks for in new members, however, is personality. Jones believes that it is very important for everyone to get along well with each other. "Erik puts a lot of focus on the group's chemistry, how well we connect on a personal level," said Diana Manfredi, the choir's president. Through Master Singers, the members have made lifelong friendships. "We even had a couple meet and marry in Master Singers," said Manfredi. The choir members spend much of their time learning from each other. When a mistake is made, they work to correct it instead of getting angry. Jones is the same way. He does not show anger or frustration, he simply explains what to do to correct a mistake and goes on.
Many area residents have been very faithful and supportive of the singers since the beginning. "Once people attend a concert, they will continue attending." said Manfredi. "People are always very pleased with what they hear." Jones and the singers have also created lasting partnerships with area churches. Jones prefers to perform in churches due to the acoustics. "Churches have higher ceilings and allow for better reverberation," said Jones. Community churches have been very supportive of the arts and are always willing to accommodate to the group. "Churches love to be involved," said Sooke. This year, the Master Singers of Virginia will be performing in unfamiliar venues because they are trying to expand their audience base and make concerts more accessible.
IN HONOR of the 10th season, Jones has incorporated the "Martin Mass" for the winter concert. "Frank Martin's Mass is considered by many to be the greatest a cappella choral work of the 20th century," said Jones. He has also planned for the choir to perform "A Festival of Lessons and Carols," based on King's College in Cambridge, England, which will be accompanied by readings from the church pastors. Sooke believes that "Forgotten Peoples" by Veljo Tormis will be one of the most memorable pieces performed this year. Tormis' work is about the disappearing ethnic groups of Asia and Europe. "This piece is sure to have an effect on the audience," said Sooke, "it is a very difficult piece to find anywhere." Other works include a never before heard spiritual by Jones, pieces by Poulenc, folk songs by Robert de Cormier, and a spiritual of William Dawson. Sooke said, "Master Singers of Virginia is sure to surprise and please all who attend."
Performances will take place in many Northern Virginia churches such as St. James Episcopal Church in Leesburg, Our Savior's Way Episcopal Church in Ashburn, St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Purcellville and St. Francis Episcopal Church in Great Falls.