Wishart Bell conducts his last concerts as artistic director of Musical Arts Indiana
Andrew S. Hughes South Bend Tribune
Wishart Bell likes to say that he “retired by degrees”, first from First United Methodist Church in South Bend in 2014 after 14 years as Director of Music Ministries, then from Bethel College in 2016 after 19 years as an assistant teacher of music and voice.
But he saved the biggest retirement for last: With Saturday and Sunday concerts at the Kern Road Mennonite Church, Bell conducts his final performances as artistic director of Musical Arts Indiana, which he founded in 1993.
“I’m sad,” he said. “I am also excited about the future of this organization and the people who are part of it. … Having an organization considering the next phase of its life is quite exciting. It moves me to tears. The sound I heard in my ear when I started is the sound I hear now.
When Bell founded Musical Arts as the Vesper Chorale to perform sacred choral music 25 years ago, the area already had three well-known and respected choirs: the South Bend Chamber Singers, the South Bend Symphonic Choir and the Camerata Singers, in addition to the numerous college and university choirs in the region.
“I’m not sure I was trying to fill a hole in the community as much as I was trying to fill a hole in my life,” he says. “It was the music I wanted to do at the time.”
At the time, Bell, whose career began in the early 1970s as a piano teacher at Bethel College, was working in insurance and had been without music for several years.
“I was like, ‘I want to lead a choir again. Why not start one? It was selfish,” he says. “But it was a bit of a spiritual calling. I had no more music and started hearing choral music in my subconscious.
Minnesota’s National Lutheran Choir, Chanticleer and the Robert Shaw Chorale served as initial role models for Bell, but after five difficult first years, the organization embarked on a session of strategic planning that led to dramatic changes and a growth.
The organization founded the Vesper Chamber Orchestra in 1998, the Children’s Choir of Michiana in 2004, and Consortia, an a cappella ensemble of up to eight singers geared toward private functions and popular music.
The chamber orchestra opened the door to what has become the specialty of the adult choir: oratorios, great religious works such as Handel’s “Messiah” and Haydn’s “The Creation”.
The children’s choir gave Bell one of the biggest surprises of his career.
“Working with children is beyond my wildest imagination,” Bell says of the ensemble, which he began directing in his second year and is now under the direction of James Hornor and McKayela Collins-Hornor. . “I had no idea how much I was going to like it. I was really looking forward to (rehearsing) Tuesday nights.
The organization incorporated as Musical Arts Indiana in 2004 to reflect the changes in its repertoire that came with the addition of new ensembles.
For five years, for example, Vesper Chorale held an annual fundraising gala in February titled “Vesper Valentine Voices” and occasionally scheduled other vocal jazz concerts, such as one dedicated to Indiana natives Hoagy Carmichael and Cole Porter.
“It became the catalyst that got us into secular music,” Bell says of the fundraisers. “We did one at the Studebaker National Museum. Because of the vintage of the cars, we made 1940s music that you would have heard on the radio.
Other changes have not been so welcome.
“When we were new, we had 25 singers, and probably 25% of the singers were minorities,” Bell explains. “They got older and retired, and little by little we became this white-faced band.”
He founded the organization’s “Diverse Journeys” concert series to remedy this situation. Concerts joined the Vesper Chorale with choirs from traditionally African-American churches and the Hispanic-leaning St. Adalbert Catholic Church. The series also included several performances of “Holocaust Cantata: Songs From the Camps” at Temple Beth-El.
“It was a success in some ways and a failure in others,” Bell says. “We still don’t have any minorities in the group. It was a struggle.
Bell, who turns 70 in December, says he has ruled out ever singing with the Vesper Chorale when he retires – for one thing, his “voice is old and rattled”.
But even if it didn’t, he says, it would be a mistake to mess with the choir and unfair to his successor, current associate artistic director Jeshua Franklin, who conducts a piece at every concert this weekend. -end.
“He can’t operate in my shadow,” Bell says. “I’ve seen organizations struggle when a founder leaves but doesn’t.”
Concerts this weekend feature the Vesper Choir, Chamber Orchestra and Children’s Choir, as well as a quartet made up of former Children’s Choir students who are now students at the school. Adams secondary.
The programme, chosen by Bell and intended to mark his retirement as well as the organization’s silver anniversary, draws heavily on sacred works, including excerpts from pieces such as Franz Schubert’s German Mass, the “Magnificat” and Bach’s Mass in B minor, and the Children’s Mass.
But it also includes secular pieces such as Eric Whitacre’s “Seal Lullaby,” The Andrews Sisters’ “Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy,” and Goshen-based composer Lee Dengler’s “What Can I Say About Music,” for which Bell wrote. words.
Given carte blanche to schedule his final concerts, it took time and discipline to whittle the selections down to a manageable size from the original slate submitted by Bell to the Musical Arts board and musicians and singers.
“If we did everything on this list,” he says, “we would start at 7 p.m. and serve breakfast at the end.”
• WHO: The Vesper Chorale, Vesper Chamber Orchestra and Children’s Choir of Michiana
• When: 7 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday, May 20
• Or: Kern Road Mennonite Church, 18211 Kern Road, South Bend
• Cost: $28-$14
• For more information: Visit musicalartsindiana.org