Sandor Szabo conducts Oratorio Society of New Jersey. COURTESY ORATORIO SOCIETY OF NEW JERSEY

Oratorio Society of New Jersey
Fall concert: “A Musical Thanksgiving Celebration”
Saturday, Nov. 17, 8 p.m.
Church of the Immaculate Conception, 30 North Fullerton Ave.
Community “Messiah” Sing
Tuesday, Dec. 4, 7:30 p.m.
St. James Episcopal Church, 581 Valley Road
Spring 2019 concert: “Stabat Mater”
Saturday, April 22, 8 p.m.
Church of the Immaculate Conception, 30 North Fullerton Ave.


You don’t have to audition to join.

It’s unusual, to the point of astonishing.

Oratorio Society of New Jersey (OSNJ), a community chorus that works with professional musicians (singers and orchestra) and a professional conductor, and performs serious classical works, does not hold auditions.

Prospective members can visit a rehearsal, and if it feels right, join. No audition necessary.

They don’t even have to sing for the conductor so the conductor knows which part they fit the best.

Singers are trusted to know themselves.

And perhaps the most unusual thing is: it works.

There are about 60 people in OSNJ.

None of them auditioned.

Some have professional singing backgrounds. Some haven’t sung in a chorus since high school.

Board member Helen Paxton, volunteer publicity chair, has been with the choir seven years. Though she had been involved with music all of her life, studying it in college and working in the music industry for a while as director of marketing for New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, she hadn’t sung with a chorus since college when she joined.





Not having to audition is wonderful, she said. “Because of the repertoire we do, it is sort of self-selected, people interested in digging deep into the choral repertoire, from Bach to contemporary.

“We have people of all kinds. Retired professional singers with substantial voice training, and people with almost no voice training who love to sing.”

The one requirement is that people are able to read music, since it’s too hard to tackle big works otherwise. There must be a commitment to weekly rehearsals, and there are dues as well as a commitment to purchase a pair of tickets for each concert.

OSNJ, an amateur ensemble that performs classical choral music from the Baroque era to now, was founded in 1952. The Montclair-based group performs twice a year at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, and also presents a Community Messiah Sing in December.


Peter Braley, a Montclair resident who describes himself as a house husband, is entering his third year at OSNJ. 

“I sang a lot growing up, with my family, in the car in vacations, in school, in church,” Braley said. “It was always a part of my background, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.”

But after college, he got busy with other things.

Then a friend who had been with OSNJ for a few years coaxed him to join.

“I forgot how wonderful it was to be a part of that,” he said. He would have been happy to audition if asked. But, he said, not having to audition would be “reassuring for those people who do enjoy singing. It would certainly make them more comfortable to sit down and try it out.

“There is no initiation or anything you have to sign when you come in. You can just sit in. If it feels right, you can join the group and share in the fun.”

Shy people have nothing to fear, he said, “It’s very relaxed.”

But relaxed doesn’t mean easy.

“The music director is very organized with the practices,” Braley said. “A lot of us will comment how impressed we are that we pull it all together by the end of practices and can put out a nice piece of music.”

Conductor Sandor Szabo has been with OSNJ since 2005. Originally from Yugoslavia, Szabo has conducted the Guelph Sinfonietta and Coro Culturale di Italia in Ontario and Westminster Choir College in Princeton, and holds a doctorate in piano performance from Boston University. He currently serves as choir director/organist of Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston, as well as minister of music at the Reformed Church of Bronxville, N.Y.

OSNJ’s first concert of this season, in November, titled “A Musical Thanksgiving Celebration,” includes a choral work by Bach and a choral work by Mendelssohn.

“Some of the pieces are musically challenging,” Braley said. “A couple of pieces, I haven’t been familiar with at all. It’s wonderful to have that opportunity to learn something challenging. I put in some time at home. Technology allows us to sing along. I can pull up videos of most of the pieces we’re doing, and lock in familiarity with the parts.”

During rehearsals, choir members stand where they want to within their sections. There is a seating arrangement for dress rehearsals and concerts.

Overall, the feeling is welcoming, Braley said. He enjoys being with people who love what he does.

“Practices aren’t stressful. It’s a relaxed atmosphere,” he said. And then, when it comes together, “There’s a wonderful feeling of being part of something that’s so good, surrounded by this wonderful music.

“I had forgotten what all of that was like. It’s hard to describe the feeling that happens when you’re up there onstage making great music.

“I know a lot of people out there in the community at some point in their lives had fun singing. It’s never too late to try it out again.”

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