Member Spotlight: KellyAnn Nelson and Christopher Eanes & the Young Professionals Choral Collective, Cincinnati
Many young professionals lose the choral experience they loved in school. KellyAnn Nelson and Christopher Eanes hit on a surefire draw: Invite 20- and 30-somethings to rehearse and perform in a local bar.
Chorus America’s Kelsey Menehan talks with the couple about their latest venture.
How did you come up with the idea for the Young Professionals Choral Collective?
KellyAnn: Chris was sitting on the advisory committee for the World Choir Games and they asked him, how do you engage young professionals? We started talking about how cool it would be to have a place where people in their 20s and 30s could sing. So in the fall of 2011 we just decided to try it out. We thought we would just get 15 to 20 singers. Well, we have 100 singers now.
Were you surprised at the turnout?
KellyAnn: It’s been amazing. People were looking for a place to sing and connect with other people and to find out about the cool new restaurants. Our first concert was on Valentine’s Day in a bar located in a part of town called Over-the-Rhine. That’s an historic district that is being revitalized through the arts.
We called the concert “Sin and Tonic.” We performed English madrigals that were a little dirty, like “Come Again, Sweet Death,” and told about what the “sweet death” really was! We did French chanson about jealousy and Appalachian folk songs about love. There was no ticket charge. It was just come in and sing and support the bar—the Below Zero Lounge—and give a donation if you want. We had 160 people come.
What was the response from those who came and listened?
Afterward people came up and said, “I never thought I would have a spiritual experience in a bar.” People were able to laugh and cry and connect to the story in the songs. And when the concert ended everybody stayed. There were audience members in their 60s and 70s and folks in their 20s who would never have gone to a choral concert if their friend had not been singing in a bar and they could drink a beer while they listened. It was a great community event.
What is the theme for your next concert?
KellyAnn: Our next concert is called “In Vino Veritas” and will be at Memorial Hall, a beautiful 100-year-old theater that is coming back to life. A local restaurant, 1215 Wine Bar & Coffee Lab, is providing wine and a sommelier to do wine tasting during the concert. We will sing South African and Italian music while the audience tastes South African and Italian wines.
It seems that singing in these “nontraditional” spaces is quite a draw.
Chris: The singers tell us that they are excited that there is a place to sing that is not affiliated with a church and that is not the big time commitment of a major symphony chorus. We do our concerts in cycles, so the singers can work it into their schedules. So out of our 100 singers, some 40 were available to rehearse for the first concert cycle and 60 for the second. The singers can come in and out as they need to, because they have busy lives. Approaching attendance this way has made the singers a lot happier.
It turns out that young professionals are already interested in choral music. They just want a forum in which they can experience it on their own terms. We live in a generation when you can do everything from your house and you don’t have to go outside your comfort zone. So in a sense we are providing a really safe and easy environment for people to participate.
One of our goals is that our singers will use this as a steppingstone and begin to engage with other choral and arts opportunities. And we see that happening already. We partnered with the Cincinnati May Festival, a week-long celebration of the Cincinnati Symphony that just ended. They have provided us some funding to get us off the ground. And we did some singing for them before and after their major concerts during the festival.
KellyAnn: The major arts organizations want to engage young people but often it is to get them to be audience members or donors. That’s not necessarily a way we can contribute right now. We want to be involved and we want to produce the art. The partnership with the May Festival allowed us to do that.
In addition to managing the Young Professionals Choral Collaborative, you both work with the Cincinnati Boychoir—Chris as artistic director, and KellyAnn as director of education and outreach. How has Chorus America been helpful to you?
Chris: Chorus America has been a great resource, both in figuring out how to run this crazy thing that we do, but also the advocacy that Chorus America provides us. The publications, like the school choir advocacy guide, are on the ground and very useful. And Chorus America’s Conferences are great fun. I am one of those people who goes to conferences being a little skeptical about what I am going to get out of it. We walked away from Chorus America’s Conference last year with several really great ideas that we are implementing.
KellyAnn: I am interested in not only the artistic product but in the business side of things, in bringing things to fruition. When I left college, I thought music was an academic thing. What Chorus America really understands is that so much of this great musicmaking is happening in other ways. It offers both the artistic and the administrative tools that we need to be successful.
Young Professional’s Choral Collaborative