Oratorio Society marking 70 years, paying tribute to longtime members
The Oratorio Society of New Jersey is singing its way into its 70th year of existence with a gala on Oct. 19 that will feature live performances, a silent auction and a tribute to members who have been a part of the society for 25 years and more.
Founded in 1952, the society, based in Montclair, is a creative recreational activity that allows residents to showcase their vocal ability by becoming part of a choral group.
It is open to all and does not require auditions, but it prefers that members have some type of musical experience, like knowing how to read sheet music. Such pieces as Handel’s “Messiah,” with its famed “Hallelujah” chorus, tests the vocal ranges of sopranos, altos, tenors and basses. This fall the society will be performing “Mozart Requiem” and “Beethoven: Choral Fantasy” at the Union Congregational Church on Nov. 19.
In celebrating its 70th year, the society will use proceeds from the gala to continue funding the group. Though members pay a small membership fee, instrumentalists and the music director, currently Sándor Szabó, are hired to aid the members.
Throughout its existence, the society has faced ups and downs, but nothing as daunting as the pandemic. Last November marked the first time the choir could perform together in person since 2019. Until they were able to meet in person, society members held rehearsals on Zoom. Though COVID numbers are dwindling, members still take precautions in rehearsal and performances. Members are required to show vaccination cards, and some wear masks that are specially designed for singers, allowing them more room to breathe while also allowing their voices to project.
Despite the precautions, members will be excited to gather at the gala to watch soloists and dancers perform operatic pieces and songs from Broadway. In addition, members who have been a part of the chorus for more than 25 years will be honored.
Cia Siebert, a Montclair resident, joined the society 30 years ago and is thankful for the fellowship that comes with it. “We're a family, and we get to meet each other every week,” Siebert said.
Growing up in Bloomfield, Siebert always had an affinity for singing. She went to the American Musical and Dramatic Academy on a vocal scholarship. When she moved to Montclair in 1980, a friend mentioned that the Oratorio Society would be performing one of her favorite musical works, “Messiah.”
Now, 30 years later, she’s shocked that she’s being honored for doing something that she loves. “It's my love of music that just makes me get out in all sorts of weather, and whether I've had a rotten day or not, I know I have something to look forward to,” Siebert said. “I just enjoy being part of the group. I never expected anything like that.”
Montclair resident Susan Ladov, who has also been a part of the society for 30 years, sought it out to reignite her love of choral singing. Ladov sang in high school and college, but as she got older she found herself unintentionally pressing pause on her passion, until she moved to Montclair.
“It sort of dropped out of my life, except for listening to music at home and singing along with records and what not,” Ladov said. “Then after we moved to Montclair, I got news that there was some group called the Oratorio Society of New Jersey, and it sounded very professional and high-end. And I thought, ‘I'm not going to be part of that.’”
She feared that she might have to audition for the society, but after finding out that no auditions were necessary, she joined. “I never would have thought, here I would be 30 years later, but that being said, I'm so happy that this has been a part of my life,” Ladov said.
Alongside Siebert and Ladov, members Donna Karanja, Ernestine Galloway, Bob Hodgson, Paul Kaufman, Mary Derengowski-Stein and Stuart Turnbull will be honored at the gala.
To purchase tickets to the gala or contribute to the Oratorio Society, visit oratoriosocietynj.org.