A Historical Overview of the Wichita Chamber Chorale
In the early months of 1978, the Wichita Chamber Chorale was founded by Philip Coleman, Michael Pohlenz, Nolen Pridemore and Howard Webb, who had studied music education together and been members of the Singing Quakers at Friends University in Wichita, Kansas. Dr Pohlenz and his friends envisioned an auditioned community choir for adult singers in south central Kansas, and later that spring the Wichita Chamber Chorale presented their premiere concert with an ensemble of 30 of the region’s best singers. Dr Pohlenz conducted and Dr John Leavitt accompanied the Chorale before a large and appreciative audience at East Heights United Methodist Church on April 23, 1978.
Dr Michael Pohlenz
In addition to a regular schedule of performances and educational events in Wichita, under the direction of Dr Pohlenz the Wichita Chamber Chorale performed for state Kansas Music Educators Association conventions, the Southwest Region of the American Choral Directors Association Convention in 1988, and the national ACDA convention in 1989. The Chorale toured throughout Kansas, performing in Baldwin City, Dodge City, El Dorado, Emporia, Goessel, Hesston, Hutchinson, Liberal, Manhattan, McPherson, Moundridge, Newton and Topeka. They performed with the Wichita Symphony Orchestra, Music Theatre of Wichita, and under Robert Shaw with the choirs and orchestra of Wichita State University.
In March of 1992, the Chorale performed internationally with the State Academic Concert Orchestras of Moscow and St Petersburg, and they performed for the Joan of Arc Festival in Orleans, France – one of Wichita’s sister cities – in May 1996. In April of 1997, they hosted the Chorale Francis Poulenc of Orleans in an exchange concert in Wichita.
Musical highlights of Dr Pohlenz’ twenty-five years included Bach’s Passion According to St. John for the 15th Anniversary concert, Brahms’ Ein Deutches Requiem for the 20th Anniversary concert, Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil and Susa’s Carols and Lullabies of the Southwest for the Hesston Performing Arts Series, the Western United States premiere of Gretchaninoff’s All-Night Vigil, and the Kansas premiere of Arvo Part’s Berliner Messe. Many other masterworks by Bach, Durufle, Handel, Haydn, Honegger, Mozart, Poulenc, Rutter, and Vaughn Williams were performed over the years. A Wichita Eagle critic wrote that the Wichita Chamber Chorale, “routinely responds with a professionalism that’s unrivaled locally.”
Accompanists during Dr Pohlenz’s tenure were John Leavitt, Joanne Forsyth, Laura Ward, Kathleen Fehrmann, Carrol Hassman, and Helen Griffin. Business managers during this period were Chung Chang, Marvin Latimer, Bill Pearce, Diann Obermueller, Nicolette Mitchell, Robin Rives McAdoo, Jan Carduff, Douglas Stemet, Ronald Pastore, and David Ross. Marsha McClure was the first historian and singer representative on the board.
In August 2003, Dr. Michael Pohlenz resigned his position as Artistic Director of the Wichita Chamber Chorale in order to assume a new position at Wellshire Presbyterian Church, Denver, CO. Well-respected guest conductors Drs. John Buehler, Harrison Boughton, Marvin Latimer, and Jerry McCoy conducted concerts for the 2003-2005 concert series.
Dr Robert Glasmann
In 2005, the Wichita Chamber Chorale was fortunate to hire Dr Robert Glasmann as Artistic Director and Conductor of the Wichita Chamber Chorale. Dr Glasmann was a professor of choral music from 1987-2010 in the Fine Arts Department of Wichita State University and conducted the WSU Concert Chorale. He also was Musical Director and Conductor of WSU Opera Theatre.
Highlights during Dr Glasmann’s tenure included a 2006 performance of Brahm’s Ein DeutchesRequiemwith the WSU Choirs and Orchestra, an all-Brahms concert in 2008, and a 2009 all-Bach concert, both accompanied by an orchestra of players from WSU and the Wichita Symphony. In June 2009 Dr Glasmann led the Chorale in a concert for the Region VI Convention of the American Guild of Organists, accompanied by David Josefiak, organist. The Chorale was also chosen to perform at the July 2009 KCDA conference in Topeka.
Dr Mark Bartel
In April of 2010, Dr. Glasmann tendered his resignation as Artistic Director for the Chorale after his retirement from Wichita State University. Dr. Mark Bartel of Friends University was selected as Artistic Director and Conductor of the Chorale in July 2010. Dr Bartel was Associate Professor and Director of Choral Music at Friends and conducted the Singing Quakers, Madrigal Choir, Women’s Chorus and Choral Union. He also taught in the areas of applied voice and conducting.
Under his leadership the Chorale continued to thrive. He welcomed partnering opportunities with school and community choral groups throughout his nine seasons as Director. In 2015, he also was instrumental in developing and founding the Kansas Choral Composition Prize along with Senseney Music. Significant pieces chosen by Dr Bartel and performed over his tenure included Poulenc’s Stabat Mater, Susa’s Carols and Lullabies of the Southwest, Haydn’s Creation, Rachmaninoff’s All Night Vigil, Tallis’ Spem in Alium, and Bach’s Cantata 80, A Mighty Fortress.
In 2013, Dr Bartel led the Chorale in celebrating its 35th anniversary season on April 13, 2013. Bach’s Magnificat and Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb were performed as well as American classics by Randall Thompson, Eric Whitacre and Steven Stucky. Over fifty Alumni Singers joined the Chorale to honor Dr Michael Pohlenz and sing in a massed choir. Dr Pohlenz was also honored with the title of Music Director and Conductor Emeritus. Russell E Hall was the 35th Anniversary Honorary Chairman.
Dr Bartel began a new academic position in Calgary, Canada in August 2019.
Each summer or fall for most of its forty-plus years, the Chorale has performed “Cabaret,” a musical fundraiser of Broadway and pop music standards, complete with delicious food and drink. In recent years this has been held at Prairie Pines hosted by Bob Scott, a past Chorale singer, board member, and President. It continues to be an event that both audience and singers look forward to, in a less-formal atmosphere and relaxed style. Other traditions over the years have included concert series entitled Spring Serenade, Summer Serenade, Children’s Classics, Choralfest, and the high school outreach workshop, Heartland Festival.
This historical review would not be complete without the mention of the list of distinguished citizens who have contributed their time, talent, and resources to the success of the Wichita Chamber Chorale. Over 150 individuals have served on the Board of Directors since its inception. They were especially critical to the legal creation and financial survival of the organization, particularly during the developmental years. In the 25th anniversary program of 2003, six directors were singled out for their vision and personal sacrifice on behalf of the organization: Bobbie Bastian, Mable McKee, Marjorie Rine, John Stark, George Vollmer, and Martha Wittenbach. Private foundations and trusts have also played a significant role in the success of the Chorale, as well as funding from the City of Wichita Cultural Funds and the Kansas Arts Commission.
In closing, the mission of the Wichita Chamber Chorale is to champion significant choral music and perform it at the highest national standards, to foster music education within the community, and to contribute to the quality of the cultural life of greater Wichita and the surrounding region. Through the strength of its singers, the vision and leadership of its artistic directors and board members, and the support of its listening audience, the citizens of Wichita and surrounding communities will continue to enjoy the work of the Wichita Chamber Chorale for many years to come.