The GNHCC Oral History Project

The GNHCC Oral History Project was created to celebrate the chorus’s fifty-fifth anniversary. The goal was to record and preserve the memories of long term members and create a historical record of what it was like to sing in the chorus—stories, anecdotes and experiences that cannot be captured by concert programs. The interviews recorded the behind the scenes story of the chorus’s fifty-five year history.
The archive contains video of half hour interviews with 14 chorus members. Their length of time with the chorus ranges from 10 to 52 years, and covers the tenure of all six artistic directors. In addition to interviews with chorus members, the archive includes an interview with Andrea Konetchy, wife of the founding artistic director, Ronald Dean Konetchy.
GNHCC was the brainchild of Ron Konetchy, who worked with local radio station WELI to create the chorus. Andrea remembers the early days of the chorus this way: “They came to WELI for the first …rehearsal and Ron didn’t know what he was receiving quite honestly, and so what he had them do was sing “Row Row the Boat” and that was a challenge in itself from what he told me, but from there it just got better and better and better.” Long serving members have fond memories of Ron. “Ron entertained everybody. Ron was very funny. And we just had a wonderful time, ” said Grace York, who sang with Ron at both GNHCC and the Waterbury Chorale. Others spoke of his musical vision: “Ron had an aesthetic vision. He saw beyond what was in front of us and he could describe things as no one else,” Soprano Jill Savitt remembered.
Ron retired from the chorus in 1998. Since then, there have been five artistic directors, each with his own style and legacy. “One of the great assets of the chorus was having great conductors,” said tenor Allan Rivas. “Everyone had their unique expertise and that’s what made the chorus what it is now.” Grace York remembers Stephen Black, artistic director from 1999 to 2002, as “a gorgeous upbeat musician, he was top notch.” He was also known for his entertaining stories during rehearsals. “He was from Kentucky or Tennessee…he would break off from the music and tell a story about his life…that’s what I liked about him,” says Tom Toigo. After Stephen left the chorus, vocal performance student Rolando Sanz stepped in for one year. Laura Hintz remembers him as “charming” and many singers remember his beautiful operatic tenor. His experience as a professional singer helped the chorus members improve their technique as well. Alto Laura Hintz said “he would spend more time teaching us the notes and the production of the sound.” Christopher Clowdus (2004-2011) is remembered for his high musical standards and artistic integrity. Alto Susan Conover said “Christopher’s ability to evoke emotion from the chorus during performances was spectacular. He really had a talent.” One of his main legacies was expanding the chorus’s repertoire and helping the singers gain confidence in approaching difficult pieces. “He was with us for 5 years and he elevated our music by giving us sometimes extremely hard works,” said member Dottie Althoff, a member since 1993.
No discussion of conductors would be complete without mentioning the current artistic director, Noah Blocker-Glynn. He came to the chorus in 2011, after Christopher Clowdus’s departure. Dottie Althoff remembers his audition in August of that year, just weeks before the new season was due to start: “we had about 60 people from the chorus show up because that’s how interested people were…so Noah came in in late August…It was a very nice relationship immediately.” Soprano Laura Pringleton noted that Noah started the GNHCC Chamber Choir, which gives singers an opportunity to sing in a smaller group. Thinking back on Noah’s time with the chorus, Laura Hintz said “we really hit the jackpot when we hired Noah. He has…a great personality, he has a great rapport with the chorus– he loves to remember everyone’s name.”
There have been a number of memorable concerts in the chorus’s history. One of the earliest was participating in the celebration of the Bicentennial in 1976. “we were the chorus that represented Connecticut at the Bicentennial in Philadelphia. And so in July, that’s where we were. We were all on buses, and the whole chorus travelled down for that time period and it was just a lot of fun and a nice honor,” remembered Andrea Konetchy. Ruth Lombardi, member since 1966, had this memory: “I sang a solo! I was so nervous! I told my cousins to come because I had a solo.” Another concert that many singers remembered was the performance of Vivaldi’s Gloria in 2010. It was one of the most well-attended concerts in the chorus’s history. Susan Conover remembered, “it’s the only concert that we know of where we packed Battell Chapel. We had people lined up waiting to get in.” Dottie Althoff estimated that there were one thousand people in Battell that evening. Even more memorably, the chorus took the concert into the community. Current Board Chair Kathy McManus said “…we did it for students at Career Hill High school. This my most vivid memory– watching the students who had never heard classical music sitting in the front row looking up at us with their mouths open just totally amazed at this music, Vivaldi’s Gloria. It was a wonderful experience.”
But perhaps the most important part of the chorus is not the singing but the community. Laura Hintz said the chorus “is like a family—well for me. Probably because I’ve known a lot of these people a long time… its an odd thing, because you see them every week for 2 and half hours for nine months –some of them for years– so you get bits and pieces of their family life…it’s like a big family.” The commitment and the friendships that develop in the chorus make it special. Tom Toigo commented “It’s a community thing. It’s right in the name. The people in it are that community and I think that makes it really really special and I think the people in it are special. They all have unique qualities and they’re so varied. There’s so many different cultures coming into our group that just makes it wonderful. I also think it makes it a better sound, makes it unique but beautifully so. I think that’s our strength—it’s the amount of people that we have, not only the number, but the differences.” All of these things make the chorus, and Thursday nights special. Jill Savitt perhaps said it best: “Thursday nights you just step out of everything, and you come together and you make music.. and that is the most important thing that you are doing.”
Rebecca Tannenbaum, GNHCC Historian