The history of Whatcom Chorale

Legend has it that Whatcom Chorale began in 1972 when David Clarke arrived in Bellingham toting a suitcase full of madrigal sheet music and an infectious desire to sing.  From the informal group of 20 friends he inspired, Whatcom Chorale has grown to an accomplished ensemble of over 100 voices with a repertoire ranging from Bach to Britten.

Original Chorale members soon recognized a need for professional leadership, and in 1975 recruited Western Washington University Professor of Music, Dr. Robert Scandrett, to direct what was then called the New Whatcom Choral Society.  Dr. Scandrett rightly predicted that the Bellingham community would welcome this opportunity to express their talents, and during his twelve year tenure Chorale membership swelled to eighty vocalists. Scandrett’s insistence upon rigorous standards honed the group’s enthusiasm and fostered a rise in musicianship and sophistication.  In 1986 the chorale’s diligence culminated in a highly successful European concert tour, a collaborative venture with the Seattle Symphony Chorus and Birmingham, England’s Symphony Orchestra.

Whatcom Chorale, Assumption Church, December 1990Under the direction of Jack Frymire (1987-88) and Richard Asher (1988-91) the chorale continued its musical evolution, introducing vocal training and summer workshops.  Performance quality steadily improved and the chorale endeavored to gain wider exposure within the community.  The spirit of joyous music making that had always energized the singers now emerged in strong, well rehearsed, and engaging concerts, but the public was largely unaware.  A simpler name, Whatcom Chorale, in tandem with a closer relationship with Whatcom Symphony Orchestra and sponsorship of a vocal scholarship, helped Whatcom Chorale expand its community presence.

When Linda Scheuffele Frost assumed leadership of Whatcom Chorale in 1992 she had no idea the commitment would extend for ten years and 55,000 freeway miles.  As Artistic Director/Conductor, Ms. Frost challenged chorale members with eclectic selections including Vivaldi, Brahms, Durufle, Copland, Menotti, and Ramirez.  To infuse its classical repertoire with fresh musical elements, the choir mastered works in Spanish, French and Russian.  And to further augment its stylistic versatility, Whatcom Chorale delivered a crowd pleasing concert of American composers during its 1998 tour of Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic.

Dr. Allan Cline joined Whatcom Chorale as Artistic Director/Conductor in June 2002.  During his five year tenure, Dr. Cline spearheaded efforts to form Whatcom Chorale Sinfonia, an ensemble of superior musicians who provide orchestral accompaniment for chorale performances.  Several concerts directed by Dr. Cline offered renditions of his own compositions, as well as performances of Mozart’s Requiem, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, and Orff’s Camina Burana.

Beginning in the fall of 2007, Whatcom Chorale was fortunate to study and perform under the direction of Charles Peterson.  With his extensive background in vocal instruction and choral conducting, Mr. Peterson brought a new emphasis on vocal technique that enriched the choir’s tone quality and facility in musical production.  As a former director of opera theatre, Mr. Peterson inspired Whatcom Chorale and Sinfonia to present a rousing evening of opera choruses in addition to a poignant concert featuring the ethereal harmonies of 19th century French composers.

Whatcom Chorale’s current Artistic Director/Conductor, Deborah Brown, proved the logical and much applauded choice to take up the baton from Charles Peterson, having served as Assistant Director during the previous four years.  Along with her experience in opera performance and choral conducting, Ms. Brown brings an infectious enthusiasm for the essential beauty of music and a devotion to the composer’s creative intention.  Her confident direction has challenged Chorale to master the innovative rhythms and harmonies of 20th century composers such as Lili Boulanger and Alice Parker.  Older works in the choral repertoire are made new again with Ms. Browns special attention to how text shapes musical interpretation.  Thus, from the romantic ironies of Brahms’ Neue Liebeslieder to the lighthearted parodies of P.D.Q. Bach, Chorale continues to engage and impress audiences with its vocal artistry and outright joy in making music.