Fairfax Choral Society Blog


Jazz Hands: A Brief History of Show Choir

As FCS prepares to take on the Broadway classics, we decided to explore the history behind these unique choral arrangements and performances. From circus freaks to Glee Club, check out this rich history of jazz hands! Circus Freaks and Edutainment It’s hard to believe that a choral tradition shares a history with freak shows and beauty contests, but the exhibitions created by P.T. Barnum at the American Museum in New York City, called “edutainment,” were meant to provide family-orientated performances more reputable than their saloon-style counterparts. The acts included musicians, human anomalies, and thespians alike. Barnum eventually expanded his format and teamed up with James Anthony Baily to create the greatest spectacle on Earth, the Barnum and Baily circus. Vaudeville The attempt to appeal to men, women, and families led theater owners Benjamin Franklin Keith and Edward F. Albee to develop the Vaudeville style that included everything from magicians and singers, to animal trainers and performers of dangerous feats. The acts were characterized by a clean-cut atmosphere that forbade off-color language and revealing costumes in exchange for the good, clean fun of formulaic satire. Burlesque Those theaters that chose to maintain their all-male clientele and saucy subject matter continued in the Burlesque style characterized by bawdy musical acts. Like Vaudeville, Burlesque shows followed a specific format, but included dirty jokes and raucous dance numbers from their all-female performers. Jazz and Hollywood With the arrival of the roaring 20’s and the implementation of Prohibition came changing styles and attitudes toward music and dance. The success of Tin Pan Alley composers opened the American market up to popular music. The first... read more

Steve Greene Joins FCS Development

The staff at FCS welcomes Steve Greene as the new Development Assistant. With a solid background in the nonprofit sector, Steve has a lot to bring to the table with goals to help FCS expand our base. We recently sat down with Steve to discuss his path to the arts community. What type of work have you done in the past? I’ve worked in the nonprofit world for nearly twenty years in a variety of roles–program management, development, volunteer management, communications. I love doing work that engages people in benefitting their communities. What made you want to work with FCS? I’ve been involved with FCS for several years, first as a member of the Symphonic Adult Chorus and now as a parent of kids in the youth choruses. When the opportunity arose to work with an organization I care so much about, I had to pursue it. What do you hope to accomplish in working with us? I hope I can help to raise the profile of FCS in the community and develop relationships with new supporters. I think that when people see the strength and quality of our programs, they will want to be a part of it. Do you or your family have a background in music? I grew up singing in choirs and playing in my school band, so music has always been a part of my life. I hope to do the same for my children. What is your favorite style of music? I can appreciate most any style of music, but in my car you’ll usually find me listening to either classic or contemporary... read more

New Faces: A Few Minutes with Musicianship Teacher Kat Arrasmith

Some new faces grace our youth campuses this season. We took a few minutes to sit down with our new Early Childhood & Da Capo choir musicianship teacher, Kat Arrasmith. Where are you from? I’ve spent most of my life moving around Western NY (primarily the Rochester area), but I was born in Iowa.  I feel like a hybrid between the two areas: a go-getting New Yorker with Midwestern sensibilities. Where did you go to school? What was your major? Instruments? I earned my Bachelor’s Degree at Baldwin Wallace University in Berea, OH.  I was a Music Education major and a vocal primary.  I spent most of my music work focused on theory/ear training, and early childhood general music.  I also spent a lot of time working as a seamstress in the theater department. What do you hope to accomplish as an FCS teacher? I want to help our students build a solid musical foundation.  I hope to facilitate exploration and experimentation through practicing excellent singing techniques, decoding patterns, and creating music. What are your long-term goals? I’m looking forward to starting a Master’s Degree in Music Education.  I’m interested in the research and practical application of best practices in both music and general education.  Someday I would like to have a job teaching at the early elementary and collegiate level. What is your favorite style of music? I grew up listening to a lot of 80’s alternative, which influenced my love of upbeat indie music and 90’s alternative.  I have a secret soft spot for 12-tone rows and atonal... read more

A Note About Music Education

Scheduling next school year’s activities for your kids?  Curious about when to get your kids started with musical instruction – and how to do so? Here’s what our teachers & directors have to say.  If you have any thoughts or questions or would like more information about FCS’ award-winning music education program, please get in... read more

In Memoriam

This month we lost two composer/educators dear to the Fairfax Choral Society: Stephen Paulus and Betty Bertaux. Each devoted their lives to their craft and provided beautiful memories to the FCS community. Stephen Paulus was born on August 24, 1949 to a chemical engineer (and amateur organist) father and an interior designor mother. He earned his Bachelors, Masters, and Doctorate degrees from the University of Minnesota. Paulus spent most of his life in St. Paul, Minnesota where he founded the Minnesota Composers Forum, which eventually became the American Composers Forum. Paulus is best known for his operatic, choral, and symphonic compositions. His “Pilgrims’’ Hymn” was performed at the funerals of presidents Ronald Reagan and Gerald R. Ford. One of his five commissioned operas from the Opera Theatre St. Louis, The Postman Always Rings Twice, is still performed worldwide. Paulus died on October 19, 2014 at the age of 65 due to complications from a stroke. Betty Bertaux’s contributions to music education are reflected today in the FCS Youth Chorus program. Born in 1939 in Knoxville, Tennessee, Bertaux earned a Bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Tennessee and a Masters degree in Music Education from Holy Name University in Oakland, California. She also earned a second Masters Degree in Composition from Rice University in 1992. Passionate about music education, Bertaux founded the Children’s Chorus of Maryland in 1976. In a 1986 interview with the Evening Sun, Bertraux is quoted, “A singer has a responsibility to be musically literate just as much as an orchestral member. I thought we needed a children’s choir which offered good choral performance but... read more

A Few Minutes With . . . FCS Chorus Manager Donna Morgan

This year FCS welcomed Donna Morgan to our staff as our new Chorus Manager.  Donna moved to the area in 2012, along with her exceptionally musical family (including FCS singers Molly and Allyssa and her husband Todd, Theatre Programming Coordinator at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts). It didn’t take us long to snatch up the talent in that group!   Donna, who has a rich background as a singer, educator, musical director, now helps us with the day-to-day management of our 10 choirs and nearly 400 singers.  She also lends her talents to the soprano section of our Symphonic Chorus (hello Carmina!), and her girls are FCS singers as well.  Get to know more about this woman of many talents below. How long have you lived in northern Virginia, and what brought you to the area?  My husband accepted a position with The Kennedy Center two years ago in February and the girls and I followed him up in September of that year. Your children are singers too!  How do you nurture their interest in music?  We have always been a musical family.  Music plays throughout the house every day!  I taught music in the public schools for many years as well as served as the Minister of Music in our local church. Todd and I both worked professionally in musical theater so our children have grown up enfolded in music of every kind.  It was a very natural thing for them to be musical since it was, and still is, such a huge component of their day to day lives. Your girls began singing in... read more
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