About Us

The Orpheus Singers is a chamber choir of skilled volunteers and paid professionals of 24–28 singers. We sing two concerts per season with rehearsals twice a week for the three weeks leading up to the concert. Then we go “fallow” until the next concert preparation. We sing concerts of classical repertory from the 15th century to recently composed music, often on the same program, and often a cappella.

  • Soprano

  • Deborah Greenman
  • Susan Halliday
  • Margaret Johnson
  • Sarah Moyer
  • Annie Simon
  • Janet Stone
  • Alto

  • Hannah Davis
  • Nadja Goould
  • Joan L. Griscom
  • Katherine Growdon
  • Teri Kowiak
  • Kamela Soparkar
  • Letitia Stevens
  • Tenor

  • Devin Caughey
  • Geoffrey Fine
  • David McSweeney
  • Alexander Nishibun
  • Jason Wang
  • Bass

  • John Graef
  • Joel Hencken
  • Brett Johnson
  • Ari Nieh
  • Benjamin Pfeil
  • Will Prapestis
  • Steven Ralston

James Olesen, Music Director
James Olesen has sung in choruses since elementary school and conducted them since high school. His conducting repertory stretches from Dufay and Josquin through Beethoven and Schubert to Schoenberg and Shifrin. He has guest conducted locally with Emmanuel Music in its ongoing Bach Cantata series at Emmanuel Church, the Griffin Ensemble in works of Mario Davidovsky and Allen Anderson, and the Cambridge Symphony Orchestra. He has prepared choruses for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Prague Symphony, and the Boston Philharmonic. He was Resident Conductor of the Michigan Youth Symphony at the University of Michigan and the Livonia Youth Symphony in Michigan. As a conductor, he has recorded for Composers Recording, Inc. and as a professional chorister, for RCA, Nonesuch, CRI, and Columbia, and concertized under conductors Leonard Bernstein, Robert Shaw, Leopold Stokowski, Loren Maazel, Josef Krips, Thomas Schippers, William Steinberg, Charles Munch, Thomas Dunn, Gustav Meier, and Michael Tilson Thomas. As a singer, James Olesen has performed the song cycles, Die Schoene Muellerin and Winterreise of Schubert and Dichterliebe and Liederkreis, Op. 39 of Schumann, and was founder and director of a different Orpheus Singers, a vocal quartet that concertized in New England and in Boston area public schools for Young Audiences, Inc. of Massachusetts in the late 1960’s. He has taught at the Commonwealth and Buckingham Schools. His BA is from the University of Chicago and DMA from the University of Michigan, where his principal teachers were Gustav Meier and Thomas Hilbish. He was director of choruses at Brandeis University from 1972 to 2014.

Orpheus Singers – Closing Words

August 24,2017

We gave our final concert on February 27, 2016 and our first concert November 12, 2005, both in Lindsey Chapel of Emanuel Church, Boston. In the in-between eleven years, we gave two concerts per season. We started and remained small. We were a chamber choir, often singing a cappella programs and always in a small, beautiful space. Being small meant being unnoticed by any reviewer, but free of any worry about ticket sales. We could make repertory choices without putting “accessibility” first, grateful that we did not have this constraint when so many ensembles did.

Our pieces were chosen from the repertory of western classical choral music, a repertory so vast that no one choir could possibly perform even a small fraction of it. This music is contrapuntal: voices moving independently of each other yet cohering into a unified expression. It’s a way of composing that has persevered from its earliest beginnings through changes in style, from Medieval to Renaissance to Baroque to Classical to Romantic, and to the various kinds of Modernism, including the music of Debussy, Stravinsky, Hindemith, Schoenberg and Elliott Carter. We were certainly not the only choral ensemble adhering to this way of programming, though our pieces did not often overlap with those of other ensembles – pieces of Carter, Copland, Stefan Wolpe, Donald Martino, Ben Weber, Marjorie Merryman, Alexander Goehr; or the madrigal cycles Arcadelt, Monteverdi, and Dallapiccola; or large-scale accompanied pieces by Lully and Marc-Antoine Charpentier. In a program of psalms, we sang the first performance of singing member Brett Johnson’s “Out of the Deep.” We sang the majority of Elgar’s choral songs with madrigals of Thomas Weelkes. We combined most of Schubert’s lieder for mixed voices and piano with the 4-hand piano duo, Fantasy in F Minor, and we consistently sang lieder, motets, madrigals and chansons of Lassus. In a program entitled The Spirit Ascends, we coupled the Palestrina Missa Brevis with Martin Boykan’s Ma’Ariv Settings, a Boston premiere. This repertory is no longer the mainstay of choral programming; so, it seemed important to do our small part in defending it by helping to pass it on and keep it alive.

There were two experimental aspects to our ensemble: 1) we were mixed paid professional and skilled volunteers, roughly half and half, making a choir of 26-28 singers. The volunteers were grateful to be singing with professionals, and we were lucky to have professionals who were friendly and free of any trace of condescension. 2) We rehearsed twice a week for three weeks, six rehearsals in all, sang our concert, and then went “fallow” until the next concert period. This was a schedule that was closer to the professional model than the once-a-week, September- through-May schedule of community choirs. It mitigated against the inevitable forgetting over the seven days between rehearsals and it made for a more intense experience for the performers. This schedule made it clear that the ensemble’s purpose was more musical than social, though we were lucky again that everyone was happy to see each other when we reconvened.

No one, neither executive or music director, was paid other than the professional singers and occasional instrumentalists, and the graphic artists who designed and printed our programs, fliers, and posters. Our six-member board generously supported our costs with their own funds, and so did many of the singing members, both volunteer and professional, and there were contributions from friends and audience members as well.

We often came close to realizing our performance ideals. We sometimes fell short, but I believe we did not lose sight of our purpose for long, that singing the best possible music in the best possible way was why we were singing.

– James Olesen