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Santa Clara Chorale Woos New Audiences with Boisterous Bavaria and Beer

“Bavaria and Beer,” the Santa Clara Chorale’s opening concert for its 2017-2018 choral season, brought robust drinking songs from the beer gardens of Bavaria and the great drinking choruses of opera to an unlikely venue—historic Mission Santa Clara on the Jesuit campus of Santa Clara University.

And, just as Santa Clara Chorale (SCC) artistic director Scot Hanna-Weir had promised, “No toast was left undone in the rollicking and light-hearted collection of songs and choruses related to the rich history of drink in music.”

“The ‘Beer’ was powerful,” said SCC alto Beth Robb after the Oct. 20 concert, referring not to the drink but to the opening song of the program, which had a one-word lyric. That word was beer, sung repeatedly to the theme song from “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

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“It really got everybody’s attention and hearty laughter,” said Robb. “It was a surprising way to open a concert.”

Which was exactly what Hanna-Weir had hoped for—a way to surprise and appeal not just to the chorale’s faithful supporters, who already appreciate classical choral music, but to an audience that yet needs to be wooed, perhaps over a “Beer.”

“There is a common refrain among classical music organizations that our audiences are graying, and this phenomenon requires active outreach and recruitment of new audiences. The Chorale has taken this idea very seriously, and so we are doing everything we can to increase the opportunities for new audiences to be exposed to choral music,” wrote Hanna-Weir in an email.

“As we are designing our seasons and looking at our ticket pricing structure, we’ve made a couple of intentional shifts.”

The good news for families is that tickets are now free for children and youth 18 and under.

“We want to remove some of the barriers for children and parents of children to see our performances. If young people want to see our concerts, we don’t want ticket prices to be a barrier,” said Hanna-Weir. “You can’t choose what you don’t know.”

Creative concert programs with innovations that appeal to all ages continue throughout the season, yet do not abandon the classical tradition. Vivaldi’s “Gloria” is the centerpiece of the chorale’s holiday concert on Dec. 8 and 10 in Mission Santa Clara. It is paired with two modern works and traditional carols the audience can join in singing.

March 2 in Palo Alto and March 10 at Mission Santa Clara, “We, the People” will explore the diversity of America through spirituals, jazz, gospel and folk. It’s an all-ages concert in which children are invited to sit up front on pillows on the floor for the best view in the house.

Internationally-recognized tenor Dann Coakwell, a 2015 Grammy Award winner, will sing the solo part of the Evangelist in the May 12, 2018, performance of St. John Passion by J.S. Bach.

“I think the days of choirs presenting a spring concert or a winter concert and just expecting an audience to show up are fading, if not already gone. I take seriously my responsibility as the artistic director of the chorale to present a vision that includes innovative and engaging concerts that attract new audiences,” said Hanna-Weir.

The Santa Clara Chorale is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) arts organization that numbers about 80 singers. For further information and concert tickets, visit www.scc.org.

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