The following were guest artists in past years: Anne Basinski

Anne Basinski, soprano, is currently on the faculty of The University of Montana-Missoula, where she teaches voice in both the Music and the Drama/Dance Departments. Her graduate degrees are from Indianan University, and professional credits include operatic roles with the Indianapolis Opera; the Ohio Light Opera; the Intermountain Opera of Bozeman, where she was seen as Zerlina in Don Giovanni; and the Rimrock Opera of Billings, where she sang Rosina in Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Continue reading

David Cody

David Cody is highly sought after in the intermountain region as a tenor soloist in opera and in concert, as a conductor and musical director, and as a stage director. He has sung many leading and supporting roles with such companies as The Opera Theater of St. Louis, The Ohio Light Opera, Intermountain Opera, Rimrock Opera and Nevada Opera Theater. He was featured recently with the Helena Symphony as tenor soloist in Summer Sun, Winter Moon by Robert Kapilow, and as “Beadle Bamford” in Stephen Sondheim’sSweeny Todd. Continue reading

Carolyn Coefield

A Montana native and current resident of Billings, Montana, soprano Carolyn Coefield has performed with several ensembles including Portland Opera Works!, Portland SummerFest, Helena Symphony, Astoria Music Festival, Bel Canto Northwest, Portland Opera Guild and The Illustrious Virginia City Players. Most Recently, Carolyn performed the roles “Papagena” and “2nd Lady” in the Portland Opera Works! 2006 production ofThe Magic Flute. During the summer of 2006 Carolyn sang the role of “Giannetta” in the Portland SummerFest Concert Production of L’Elisir D’amore. Continue reading

Sherry Linnerooth

Sherry Linnerooth is the Professor of Horn at Montana State University and is principal horn of the Bozeman Symphony. Sherry teaches horn at the Flathead Lake Music Camp, is the founder of the Montana State University Horn Ensemble, is a member of the Bozeman ParForce Ensemble and has performed with the Fargo-Moorhead, Grand Forks, Helena, Butte and Billings Symphonies. Sherry performs with the Intermountain Opera Association and the Montana Ballet. She has presented sessions and is a member of the Montana Bandmasters. Continue reading

Gabriel Navar

Cantos Alegres (Joyful Songs)

Cantos Alegres was commissioned by and written for the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay, Jo-Michael Scheibe, Music and Artistic Director (by Paul Basler). The commission (sponsored in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts) came about after critically acclaimed performances of Basler’s Missa Kenya in the spring of 2000 by Maestro Scheibe and the Master Chorale. Continue reading

The Premiere Dance Company

The Premiere Dance Company strives to provide quality training and expand the dance education for young dancers ages 13 thru 18. At PDC they create a positive learning and social environment in a setting where dancers can explore dance as a career option. They encourage involvement in the Helena community including the schools where dancers serve as role models. They promote & share the art of dance as a service to the community. They perform benefit performances and provide free tickets to area non-profit organizations. Helena Chamber Singers is honored to have performed with PDC on several occasions.

Everett Suttle

Everett Suttle, a native of LaFayette, Georgia, is a graduate of the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University. He continued his studies at the American Institute of Musical Studies in Graz, Austria, and the Brahms Haus in Baden Baden, West Germany. He has also coached with such outstanding artists as Luciano Pavarotti, Peter Pears, Martin Arroyo, Eleanor Stever and David Garvey. Continue reading

Janna R. Williams

Janna R. Williams is a native of Helena, Montana. Janna was a member of the Helena High School Starlighters and Ambiance groups, as well as the Women’s Quartet. She began her vocal studies with Dr. Steve Michelson and will be completing her Masters in Vocal Performance at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music where she studies with Barbara Paver.

Continue reading

Everett Suttle

As far as the quality of performance in Helena, “I have been pleasantly surprised,” says Suttle. “In terms of the Chamber Singers, I think they are really first rate,” he added. “Dr. Steve Michelson is a genius.”

Mission Statement

The Helena Chamber Singers consists of singers in the Greater Helena area who are dedicated to rehearsing and performing quality choral music from around the world that represents a variety of musical periods and styles and is distinguished for its artistic excellence. Continue reading

Rhapsody on Broadway

Performed May 14 and 15, 2011

  • Music from Wicked — Stephen Schwartz/arr Mark Brymer, Based on the novel by Gregory Maguire
    • No One Mourns the Wicked
    • The Wizard and I
    • One Short Day soloists Cora Helm, Brian Luehr
    • Wonderful soloist Bob Nelson
    • Defying Gravity 
  • Music from Sweeney Todd — Stephen Sondheim
    • The Ballad of Sweeney Todd
    • The Worst Pies in London
    • Johanna Soloist Kevin Mathews
    • Green Finch and Linnet Bird Soloist Tamara Ashley
    • Pretty Women
    • Not While I’m Around Soloist Larry Sheldon
    • The Ballad of Sweeney Todd
  • Rhapsody in Blue — Steve Michelson, Mark Walker, pianists
  • Images — Rob Landes; Kerry Brown, Drum; Matt Beckstrom, bass,
  • Music from Les Miserables —  Claude-Michel Shonber/Herbert kretzmer/arr. Ed Lojeski, Based on the novel by Victor Hugo
    • At the End of the Day
    • I Dreamed A Dream — Soloists, Jessica Barnett, Gayle Sheldon
    • Castle on a Cloud
    • Master of the House — Soloist, Kevin Hamm
    • Stars — Soloist Kevin Mathews
    • Do You Hear the People Sing — Soloists Dick Weaver, Brian Luehr, Mike Swisher, Kevin Hamm
    • On My Own — Soloist Cathy Barker
    • Drink with Me — Soloists Dick Sargent, Mike Swisher, Dick Weaver, Larry Sheldon, Brian Luehr
    • Bring Him Home 
    • Empty Chairs at Empty Tables — Soloist Mike Swisher
    • Finale — Soloists Dick Sargent, Tamara Ashley, Larry Sheldon, Gayle Sheldon, Jan Van Hook

A Holiday Kaleidoscope

Performed December 18 and 19, 2010

  • REGINA COELI – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Soloists Gayle Sheldon, Donna Aline, Kevin Hamm, Larry Sheldon
  • The Christ Child is Born – Roger Emerson, HCS Men
  • A Thousand Stars – Angelo Cavalieri, HCS Women
  • Come to the Music – Joseph Martin, Jan Van Hook, piccolo
  • I Carry Your Heart with Me – David Dickau
  • Music, When Soft Voices Die – Eugene Butler
  • Earth Song – Frank Ticheli
  • Ritmo – Dan Davison, Kerry Brown, Lauren Wing, percussion, Luke Michelson, bass
  • Candlelight Carol – John Rutter
  • Born, Born in Bethlehem – Douglas Wagner
  • It’s Beginning to Look Like Christmas – arr. Mark Hayes
  • Infant Holy – Cameron Joel Rose, Jan Van Hook, flute
  • Christmas Collage – arr. Chris Lobdell
    • Deck the Halls
    • Bring A Torch, Jeanette Isabella
    • O Christmas Tree
    • I Saw Three Ships

Joyful Songs of Love

Performed May 1 and 2, 2010

  • Sure on This Shining Night – Morton Lauridsen
  • Dirait-On – Morton Lauridsen
  • Sing a Mighty Song – Daniel Gawthrop
  • Three Spanish Ballades – Eugene Butler
  • I Am Not Yours – David Childs
  • Spring – Karl Korte
  • Cantos Alegres – Music by Paul Basler, Texts and Paintings by Gabriel Navar
    • Adorable flujo
    • Portones abiertos y rostros brillantes
    • Sabor melon es el dia
    • El dia es hoy
    • Elevado
    • Astilla del sol
    • Sabo como arboles hacia ti
    • Estrellas se unen en ti
    • Amor que une con el amor grandísimo
  • Kevin Mathews, Baritone, Sherry Linnerooth


Songs of Prayer and Faith

Performed Dec 19 and 20, 2009

  • Sicut Locutus est (from Magnificat) – J. S. Bach
  • Kyrie – (from Mass) – Steve Dobrogosz
  • Agnus Dei – (from Mass) – Steve Dobrogosz
  • Go Out with Joy – Hank Beebe
  • Be Thou My Vision – arr. Robert Hunter
    • This Little Babe – Benjamin Britten Angela Espinosa, Harp
    • Child of Peace – Jeffrey Van
    • Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day – arr. John Rutter Jodi Mattson, soloist
  • Simple Gifts – arr. Mark Hayes, Jim Burkholder, Clarinet
  • Deep River – arr. John Rutter, Luke Michelson, Bass
  • Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing – arr. Mack Wilberg, Luke Michelson, Bass
  • Fourte – Special Selectons from vocal jazz quartet
  • The Straw Carol – arr. Dick Bolks, Kevin Mathews, Gary Walker, soloists
  • When Icicles Hang – John Rutter, Jan Van Hook, Jen Garber, flutes
    • Good Ale
    • Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind
    • Hay, Ay
  • Bitter for Sweet – John Chorbajian
  • Some Children See Him – arr. Joseph Martin, Tamara Ashley. soloist
  • Let it Ring, Let It Swing, Let it Snow (Medley) – arr. Mac Huff
    • Ukrainian Bell Carol – Let it Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
    • A Marshmallow World – Frosty the Snowman
    • Matt Beckstrom, bass; Kerry Brown, drums

Music of the Negro Slave

Why it is that “man’s inhumanity to man” should often produce great art is one of the mysteries of the human spirit. Some deep wellspring of creativity has certainly been touched in the making of the songs of the Negro, or African-American people. Inspired by the Bible, by their work and play, by their own experiences and great expectations, they have formed a language which leaps over national and racial boundaries, speaking to all men in a uniquely rich and varied art.

Religious songs of the Negro slave, called “spirituals,” were the outpourings of a suffering people, but the dominant theme was one of joyful faith rather than resignation or bitterness. The great number of these religious songs is evidence of the Negroes’ response to the Bible, particularly the teachings of resurrection and life after death. The thought of death is much in evidence, but it was always approached with confidence as the release from bondage into everlasting love. As Biblical interpreters, Negroes were superb. The Old Testament figures sprang to life, as if the age-old heroes and the present-day narrators witnessed the miracles together.

The music for these various dramas can range from a somber “blues” to an exultant rhythmic chant. And the language, too, has a quality all its own. Most of the texts are very brief, having an improvised type of verse and a much-iterated refrain. Certain motifs appear again and again—the river Jordan, for instance, or more secularly, the train. To understand the spiritual at a deeper level, it is first important to understand the deep-seated evils and devastation caused by slavery, and how Negro music evolved out of that horrid institution.

Slavery was more than just working hard and not getting paid for it. It was a limitation on your dreams, on your hopes, who you could marry, who you couldn’t marry. It was an entire system, from the Federal Government all the way down to the slave owner, that kept you from having personality, that kept you from having a human life. Slavery was, in a word, hopelessness condensed.

Slavery was an unrelenting, unrewarded toil on the part of men and women who had no control over their own lives. It was being born, living one’s life, and dying without ever having control over one’s destiny, while at the same time living within a society in which individual freedom and liberty were the principles upon which that society was founded. How much more difficult, how much more cruel than being whipped was it to live contained in a society where you could see freedom all around and not be able to touch it?

Slavery was brutal; its system “bred indecency in human relations,” not only between black and white, but also between white and white, between man and wife, father and son, master and overseer. For the slave, music was one of the chief avenues of escape from a life that held little dignity and meaning. The slaveholders, realizing the power of music, encouraged its use, not only as a means of increasing the work output of the slaves, but more important, as a means of preventing depression and suicidal impulses.

There were several practices of slaves which affected their singing to such an extent that white churchmen protested vehemently. First, they held songfests away from proper supervision and this was undesirable to the “church fathers.” They sang songs of their own composing, which was even worse in the eyes of these officials. The texts of the composed songs were not lyric poems in the hallowed tradition of Isaac Watts, but a stringing together of isolated lines from prayers, the Scriptures, and orthodox hymns, the whole made longer by the addition of choruses or the injecting of refrains between verses. Finally, for their composed religious songs, slaves used tunes that were dangerously near to being dance tunes in the style of jubilee melodies. None of this was acceptable to these orthodox churchmen. Nevertheless, from such practices emerged a new kind of religious song that became the distinctive badge of the black slave.

In their songs, the slaves reflected their way of life. While the original inspiration for a spiritual may have been a Biblical story or a Protestant hymn, the poetic material was reshaped to the slaves’ own immediate concerns. We know from the testimony of ex-slaves that the religious songs, more than any others, often had double meanings and were used as code songs.

Again and again the same themes are represented in the folksongs, both religious and non-religious. Some of these themes can be anticipated, for they are the themes of any oppressed people who are determined “to overcome.” First, there is faith—faith that someday slavery will be no more. The slave knows that Jesus will come to his rescue, whether he is wrestling Jacob, fighting Satan, or searching for a way out of the wilderness. Closely associated with faith is optimism. A song proclaims that the winter will soon be over; other songs remind the slaves that the sun is shining and the bells are ringing. Patience is necessary. If one cannot depend upon his own inner resources, then one must pray to the Lord for help, ask Jesus to give more patience. At the same time, the song maker cries out, “how much longer?” He is discouraged, weary, and ill; his body is racked with pain and fever. He even welcomes death as a reliever of his misery. The weariness theme sounds in almost all the songs, sometimes in the opening verses but more frequently in the later ones. Surprisingly, for a so-called meek people, there is a great deal of emphasis on the theme of fighting. True, the fight is frequently symbolic—a fight with Satan or Jacob or sin. But in numerous instances all pretense is dropped; the slave plans to fight until he dies.

Rhythm is the most striking feature of the slaves’ music. Except for the field hollers, which have their own free rhythmic patterns, slave songs showed a decided preference for simple duple meters, as distinguished from triple meters. In performance, the steady beats of a song’s meter were maintained by hand clapping and foot tapping.

Typically, the slave melodies are marked by syncopation. As a consequence the melodic accents are shifted from the strong beats of the music to the weaker beats, and there is a conflict set up between accents in the melody and the foot tapping or hand clapping, which represents metrical accents.

The Negro composer was a slave composer. He had a very limited vocabulary. To convey a message, he had to be resourceful. And from this need came a unique, individual art and purity of expression.

There were at least three unique elements in Negro music.

  1. The music was moving and imperishable.
  2. The dialect of the slaves was different from common English. The English language contains difficult sounds and letter combinations which resists an easy thoroughgoing mastery by foreigners. For the Africans, it was the sound of th that was especially difficult. So this became dis and with, wid. Final r’s caused trouble too, and so they were eliminated. Door and fear became doh and feah.
  3. The rhythm of Negro music was unique. The composer became a genius at forging lyrics in rhythmic repetition—and, in a sense, both melody and lyric were made subordinate to that pulsating life, underlying and urgent.

The planters frequently misunderstood the singing of the slave. Too often they saw the blacks on their plantations as “a large flock of cheerful and contented slaves…ever merry and ever working with a song.” On one occasion a slave, when questioned by Fredrika Bremer about his apparent good humor responded: We endeavor to keep ourselves up as well as we can. What can we do unless we keep a good heart? If we were to let it weaken, we should die.

Frederick Douglass and Solomon Northup were the most articulate of the ex-slaves who tried to explain the meaning of slave songs. Douglass observed in his 1845 autobiography that slaves sang most when they were unhappy. He remembered in particular the singing of two slaves on his Maryland plantation when they made their monthly trips to the great House Farm for supplies:

A favorite air was, ‘I thought I heard them say, there were lions in the way, I don’t expect to stay much longer here. Run to Jesus—shun the danger— I don’t expect to stay much longer here.’

It had a double meaning. In the lips of some, it meant the expectation of a speedy summons to a world of spirits; but in the lips of our company, it simply meant a speedy pilgrimage toward a free state, and deliverance from all the evils and dangers of slavery.
The purpose of some songs was to alert the slaves that a “conductor” was on the way. Many conductors made trip after trip into the South to personally lead caravans of slaves off the plantations, the white operators posing as slaveholders, slave traders, peddlers, or anyone else they thought could gain the confidence of slave owners. This method os escape for Negroes was called the “underground railroad.”One of the leading conductors of the underground railroad was the ex-slave Harriet Tubman (1820?-1913), called the “black Moses of her race.” After escaping from slavery herself, she made innumerable trips back into the South to help others to escape. It is said that she always used a special song to disclose her presence to the slaves.

Those who were left behind would have been consoled by some songs. Many of the old songs that the slaves had been singing for years must have been sung with special meaning when an escape plot was in the air. Others undoubtedly served as “alerting” songs. Still others were songs that served as “maps,” the best known of which was “Follow the Drinkin’ Gourd”, which directed the fugitives to always travel in the direction of the Big Dipper.

It is possible that when an escape plot was in the air, traditional songs were provided with parody verses specifically stating meeting places and departure times. No such versions survive, however. Most of the record of underground railroad activities were systematically and carefully destroyed and understandably so, for the penalties of discovery were too great to risk taking chances.

In the fall of 1862, President Lincoln issued a preliminary proclamation stating that on January 1, 1863, “all persons held as slaves within any state, or designated part of the State, the people whereof shall be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward and forever, free.” Black men assembled in “rejoicing meetings” all over the land on the last night of December in 1962, waiting for the stroke of midnight to bring freedom to those slaves in the secessionist states. At the contraband camp in Washington, D.C., the assembled blacks sang over and over again the well-known spiritual “Go Down Moses.”

The year 1865 brought to an end the enslavement of four million blacks. By the thousands the ex-slaves fled the hated plantations to urban areas of the South, to the North, and out into the great plains of the West. Inevitably there was a tremendous amount of suffering, for the freedmen were suddenly thrust without preparation into a new way of life.

Despite the migration of thousands out of the South, within a few years most of the newly freed slaves were resettled there and engaged in agricultural occupations as before. They worked under a system called “sharecropping,” wherein the landowner provided land and tools for the worker, whose responsibility it was to raise crops. At harvest time the worker was given a share of the crops as pay for his labor. The built-in evils of the system militated against the ex-slaves’ prospects of improving their lot. In some ways they were worse off than under slavery. The southern states began to pass the so-called Jim Crow laws that infringed upon the freedmen’s rights in every area of daily life. Their precarious situation was not helped by the emergence of white secret societies such as the Ku Klux Klan, whose avowed purpose was to establish control over the black population and maintain “white supremacy.” Under cover of darkness, hooded white riders tore black men from their homes—beat them, tarred and feathered them, lynched them.

In keeping with his traditions, the ex-slave sang about his experiences—his new freedom, his new occupations, the strange ways of the city, current events, and his feelings of rootlessness and loneliness. Above all, he sought a self-identity. Slavery had deprived him of a name, a homeland, and a family. The original African names of his forbears had long ago been forgotten, the land of Africa no longer beckoned after almost two hundred and fifty years of exile, and his relatives had been dispersed because the slave auction block had separated husband from wife, mother from child, brother from sister, and lover from lover. Now that freedom had come, some freedmen set out in search of long-lost loved ones. The black singer recounted their adventures, too. In an uneasy society that used the slightest pretext for putting black men in prison. Consequently, a new type of song was born: the prison song.

The Fisk Jubilee Singers. It was the Negro Spiritual that became this nation’s first musical export to gain the praise of European audiences. In 1871, the Fisk Jubilee Singers made their first tour to raise funds for the newly-established Fisk University, ultimately touring the United States and Europe, singing command performances whereever they went, selling their collection of spirituals around the world. They sang before crowned heads of Europe and before the common people in Germany, Switzerland, and Great Britain. They were the first choral group to go out and sing in places in the United Sates that had never before heard the black man’’ folk music.

To be sure, the spirituals performed on the concert stage represented adaptations of the folksongs rather than the genuine product. When the spirituals were removed from the original setting of the plantation or the Negro Church and sung by people who had not directly experienced slavery, these songs no longer served their primary function. Concert singers could present to the public only an approximation of how the spirituals had been sung by the slaves.

This information compiled from many sources by Steve Michelson.

Feel the Spirit: Music of the Negro Slave

Performed April 25 and 26, 2009

  • I Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray — arr. Andre Thomas
  • Hush! Somebody’s Callin’ My Name — arr. Brazeal Dennard
  • Peace Like A River — arr. Mack Wilberg
  • Follow the Drinkin’ Gourd — arr. Julie Gardner Bray
  • Daniel, Daniel, Servant of the Lord — arr. Undine S. Moore
  • Solos from the HCS Membership
  • Ain’t Got Time to Die — arr. Hall Johnson
  • All My Trials — arr. Mark Hayes
  • I’m Gonna Sing — arr. Andre Thomas
  • Goin’ Up to Glory — arr. Andre Thomas (Men of HCS)
  • There Is A Balm in Gilead — arr. Dawson (Guest Artist Megan Buness, Soloist)
  • Sweet Canaan — arr. Clifford Taylor (Guest Artist Megan Buness, Soloist)
  • Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho — arr. John Rutter, HCS/Premiere Dance Company
  • Steal Away — arr. John Rutter, HCS/Premiere Dance Company
  • Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child — arr. John Rutter,  HCS/Premiere Dance Company
  • Ev’ry Time I Feel the Spirit — arr. John Rutter,  HCS/Premiere Dance Company
  • Deep River — arr. John Rutter,  HCS/Premiere Dance Company
  • I’m Gonna Sing — arr. Robert Hunter, HCS/Premiere Dance Company
  • A Gaelic Blessing HCS/Premiere Dance Company
More information about the Music of the Negro Slave

The Many Moods of Christmas (and More)

Performed December 14 and 15, 2008

  • MESSIAH Christmas Choruses — Georg Frideric Handel
    • And the Glory
    • And He Shall Purify
    • For Unto Us a Child is Born
    • Hallelujah
  • Ubi Caritas — Marcel Durufle
  • Two Songs for Children
    • O Come, Little Children — arr. James Fritschel
    • Away in a Manger — arr. Paul Sjolund (Jan Van Hook, flute)
  • Go, Tell it on the Mountain — arr. David Lantz III, Kerry Brown, percussion, Katie Wright and Krys Holmes, soloists
  • Hodie (This Day) — Z. Randall Stroope, Kerry Brown, percussion
  • Solos from Among the HCS Membership
  • Men’s Ensemble Piece — Larry Sheldon, Conductor
  • Good Christian Men, Rejoice! — Arr. Dan Forrest
  • Gospel Magnificat — Robert Ray, Nancy Harper, soloist, Matt Beckstrom, bass, Kerry Brown, percussion

Carmina Burana

Performed May 3 and 4, 2008

Guest Artists: The Premiere Dance Company, Carolyn Coefield, Kevin Mathews, Mark Walker, Jason Slead and Kerry Brown

  • CARMINA BURANA – Helena Chamber Singers and The Premiere Dance Company, with Carolyn Coefield and Kevin Mathews
  • Images – by Rob Landes, Helena Chamber Singers with Mark Walker on piano, Jason Slead on bass and Kerry Brown on drums
  • A Dance Presentation by The Premiere Dance Company

A Glorious Christmas

Performed December 16 and 17, 2007

Guest Artist: Carolyn Coefield, Soprano

  • GLORIA – Antonio Vivaldi, Helena Chamber Singers and Orchestra with Carolyn Coefield, Soprano
  • GLORIA – Randol Bass, Helena Chamber Singers and Brass Ensemble
  • Good Christian Men, Rejoice – arr. Darmon Meader
  • Wexford Carol – arr. Dale Warland
  • Here We Come A-Caroling – arr. Brant Adams, Helena Chamber Singers
  • Some Children See Him – Alfred Burt
  • Go Tell It on the Mountain – arr. Don McCullough
  • Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas – Leslie Bricusse/John Williams, arr. Richard Kingsmore, Helena Chamber Singers with Carolyn Coefield, Soprano