2018-08-30 / Neighbors

Seaglass celebrates silver anniversary

By Duke Harrington Staff Writer


Members of the Kennebunk-based Seaglass Chorale, a community chorus with nearly 60 members representing 20 towns, perform at an Aug. 16 fundraiser at the Nonantum Resort in Kennebunkport. The group is celebrating its 25th anniversary season. (Duke Harrington photo) Members of the Kennebunk-based Seaglass Chorale, a community chorus with nearly 60 members representing 20 towns, perform at an Aug. 16 fundraiser at the Nonantum Resort in Kennebunkport. The group is celebrating its 25th anniversary season. (Duke Harrington photo) What started as a single singer’s dream, sharing the gift of music, has blossomed into what is now a 25-year tradition in world-class, not to mention world travelling, choral performances.

This summer the Kennebunk based Seaglass Chorale celebrates its silver anniversary, featuring members from more than 20 towns.

And yet, almost counter intuitively considering the wide acclaim Seaglass has won at home and abroad, most of those singers are untrained outside of their weekly rehearsals. Moreover, as it has from the beginning, the Seaglass Chorale eschewed a formal audition process. Any adult who wants to join has a standing invitation to do so.


Members of the Seaglass Chorale, including, from left, Valerie Nahorney, Amy Stewart, Marilyn Stanley and Diane Ames, perform at an Aug. 16 fundraiser at the Nonantum Resort in Kennebunkport. (Duke Harrington photo) Members of the Seaglass Chorale, including, from left, Valerie Nahorney, Amy Stewart, Marilyn Stanley and Diane Ames, perform at an Aug. 16 fundraiser at the Nonantum Resort in Kennebunkport. (Duke Harrington photo) The Seaglass Chorale was founded by mezzo-soprano Jean Strazdes. Professionally trained, with a master’s degree from the Cleveland Institute of Music, she toured extensively as an opera performer. And yet, there was something missing from her life, she said. So, after teaching for a few years at Trinity College in Connecticut, she took a winter rental in Ogunquit in hopes of finding in Maine what she had missed in grand performance halls around the globe. The idea was to mingle locally, while still commuting a few days a week to the college.

“I was teaching and singing and performing, but it wasn’t enough,” Strazdes said in an Aug. 16 interview. “I wanted to develop more in my life. So, I moved here to discover community and it just evolved from there.”

That first winter, Strazdes offered a voice class at Kennebunk Town Hall.

“It was amazing, the people who showed up, and it just snowballed from there,” she recalled. “I realized right way there is a lot of talent up here, a lot of people who didn’t need to be in New York, of even Boston. But they needed some outlet and wanted to discover another aspect artistically.”

Initially operating

under the auspices of River Tree Arts starting in 1993, Seaglass Performing Arts struck out on its own a couple of year later and quickly grew to encompass an active children’s group, regular musicals, and small offshoots like The Overtones.

The group even had its own space on Limerick Road.

“But then 2008 came along and (the recession) killed everything except the chorale,” Strazdes said. “But that remained because people love to sing. People need an outlet. And we do a lot of good things in the community. Plus, it’s fun. We laugh. We have a good time.”

Although Seaglass Performing Arts and its 50-member chorale is a nonprofit, and so survives on the generosity of local arts lovers, it also is deeply embedded within its communities, dedicated to giving back. In the decade since the recession, even as it struggled to maintain its own financial footing, Seaglass Chorale staged fundraising concerts, amassing more than $40,000 to benefit other area nonprofit organizations.

“Under Jean’s guidance, she has helped us grow musically and theatrically, and she has helped us understand the importance of performing fine, quality music for our community,” longtime chorale member Beverly Heald of Arundel said. “We do all kinds of music — classical, Christmas music, pops concerts, cantatas and requiems and things like that.

“But one thing I will say, is our singing brings a great deal of joy to all of us,” Heald said. There are many times on a Sunday late in the afternoon when I’ve thought, ‘Oh, I really don’t want to go to rehearsal tonight.’ But once you get there you are re-energized. Really, music feeds the soul, feeds the spirit, and, I think, makes us better people.”

While many chorale members have been part of the group for years, even decades, Heald’s daughter, Waterboro resident Jennifer Heald-Clapp has the distinction of being a member for most of her life.

Learning as a teenager that the group her mother was part of intended to stage a show of all-Disney medleys, Heald-Clapp eagerly joined at age 17. The group became such a part of her life, she says, that when she eventually came back to Maine after school and started dating the man that would become her husband, she insisted he meet the chorale.

“Their like family to me at this point. Their approval was very important to me,” she said, with a laugh.

Some members are practically born into the group and others join almost on a lark. And yet, the chorale can become no less an important part of their lives. And that’s partly because, while Heald-Clapp may have been looking for her fellow members to pass a certain judgment, the groups is, by its very nature, decidedly non-judgemental.

Bob Daigle of Arundel joined in the mid-’90s. Like many, he discovered the group from its annual Christmas Prelude performance and learned that, as he says, “We’re always looking for guys.”

“So, I figured, what the heck. What’s the worst that could happen?” he said. He’s been at it off and on ever since.

Off and on, he notes, because, while the chorale tends to have 50-60 active members at any one time, each floats in and out according to the currents of their own lives. But no one is ever turned away.

“The thing with Jean is that, she’ll never let you perform bad,” he said. “If you’re not doing it well, she’ll pull you aside and fix you. I was not confident in my singing at first, but I try things with her I would never otherwise dare, because

I have a safety net. If I fall off the high wire, because as she says, ‘don’t worry, you will pull it off.’ And, if not, she will still provide you with a part you can do, and it’s usually one that’s better than where you started because of her help.”

“Anyone can sing,” Strazdes said. “They have to work at it, of course. But this group, they don’t just rehearse once a week, they practice on their own every day — in their cars, on the way to work, while doing laundry, whatever.

And that’s the neat thing about Seaglass, Daigle said. It’s as good as any professional group you’re likely to find — having scored invites to perform all over the world, as such — but it’s still just regular folk.

As Seaglass Chorale hits its 25th year, has it become enough of an institution to endure? It survived the Great Recession, but could it soldier on if and when Strazdes moves on to other things?

“I hope it does,” she said. “People need this. We give each other strength. It’s not just about the singing. It’s what we’ve come to mean to each other.”

Schedule

Upcoming public performances of the Seaglass
Chorale to be staged
during its 25th season,
include:
• Wassail Holiday
Concerts
7 p.m. Saturday Dec.
1, South Congregational
Church, Kennebunkport,
and 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec.
2, Holy Family Church,
Sanford.
• “Carmina Burana”
Performance of a 1935
German cantata, or narrative choral production; 3
p.m. Sunday, April 28, at
Sanford High School.
• Pops Concerts
7 p.m. Saturday, May
18, Christ Church, Kennebunk; and 3 p.m. Sunday,
May 19, Wells High
School.
For more information,
visit www.seaglassperformingarts.org.

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