Tag Archives: Norwalk Symphony Orchestra

Serendipity Chorale’s Serendipitous 45 Years

In 1975, the Norwalk Symphony Organization planned a concert version of “Porgy and Bess.” Composer George Gershwin had stipulated it could only be performed by Black artists.

Gigi Van Dyke knew many Black singers in the area. She was asked to recruit a choir of 40 or 50 voices, teach them the score, and rehearse them.

Gigi called choir members from Norwalk to New Haven. She credits “serendipity” with finding all the sopranos, altos, tenors and basses needed.

Gigi Van Dyke

The story goes that the Norwalk Symphony Orchestra told Gigi to bring “her people” to the concert hall for a technical rehearsal. When the members — all well prepared and ready — showed up, there were more commands like “get your people to…” and “your people had better…” 

Gigi told the NSO that she could not be involved with the project. The choir did not want to go on without her.

The Norwalk Hour got wind of the exit from a sold-out performance. The headline was something like “Porgy and the Norwalk Symphony: It Ain’t Necessarily So.”

Members of the pick-up choir did not want to disband after enjoying singing together, with Gigi playing piano and directing. They continued rehearsing.

Again by serendipity, opportunities to perform kept coming Gigi’s way.

Hundreds of men and women singers have been part of the group — now called the Serendipity Chorale — over the past 45 years. They performed with Pete Seeger, Andy Williams, Betty Jones, (and the Norwalk Symphony Orchestra), among others.

Peter Jennings and ABC News recognized Van Dyke and the chorale in 1998 for its “service to all mankind.” In 2000, Governor Jodi Rell honored the Chorale as a “Connecticut Treasure.”

The Serendipity Chorale’s last live performance was last February 23, at the Darien Library. The repertoire of show tunes, pop standards, folk songs and gospel spirituals was to have kicked off a busy year celebrating their 45th anniversary.

The pandemic shattered those plans. Instead, Chorale members and friends decided to sponsor the production of a solo piano CD featuring Gigi.

Finding the right piano, recording site and engineer was difficult. Finally Gigi’s longtime friend and colleague, Rev. Dr. Edward Thompson — minister of music at Westport’s Unitarian Church in Westport — suggested recording in the now-empty sanctuary, on the church’s Steinway Grand.

Gigi Van Dyke at the Unitarian Church’s Steinway. (Photo/Lynda Shannon)

Congregation member Alec Head — a recording engineer and producer — heard Gigi play. He quickly signed on.

The sanctuary was booked for 4 hours in September. Recording took just an hour.

“Artists always tell me they can do their piece in a single take,” Alec said. “It just doesn’t happen. Except that with Gigi it did.”

Head remastered the CD, titled “It’s Love.” It was created not as a Chorale fundraiser but as a gift to Gigi, and from her to churches that could no longer have live music, as well as to senior centers and other organizations where she and the Chorale had often performed.

Recording and production costs were underwritten by donations. Copies were sent to singers who have been part of the Chorale’s life and spirit for 45 years.

The Serendipity Chorale looks forward to singing together again — perhaps this year.

In the meantime, they can hear Gigi at the piano playing her favorite hymns and songs.

For the past year, the choir could not sing. But — without missing a beat — they shared the magic of music anyway.

(Hat tip: Lynda Bluestein)

Roundup: MoCA, Deliverers, Decorations, Brass Symphony, More

Yesterday’s weather was not exactly frightful. Just foggy, wet and miserable.

But MoCA Westport’s outdoor holiday open house was on.

Families enjoyed caroling by Staples’ Orphenians, performances by teen musicians and members of the Westport School of Music, kids’ crafts,admission to the World Peace exhibition, and complimentary hot chocolate.

It was — almost — beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

A small group of (socially distanced) Staples Orphenians.

This has been a tough year for everyone.

Particularly our FedEx, UPS, Amazon and other deliverypersons.

They’ve worked long hours since March. They’re monitored closely. They’re not paid particularly well.

A few Westporters are putting treats — baked goods, other munchies, soda, water and the like — on their front steps, with a note of thanks.

And don’t forget your mail carrier. They’ve been battered this year. An envelope with cash is always appreciated!

Andrew Colabella spotted this holiday house on Vani Court:

(Photo/Andrew Colabella)

Have you entered Westport Holiday House Decorating Contest?

Register first (click here). Then submit no more than 5 photos or videos of your decorations to mrobbins@westportct.gov by December 20. Prizes are awarded for the top 3 entrants.

Next Saturday (December 19), the Norwalk Symphony Orchestra’s Brass Quintet tootles downtown. They’ll be at the Bedford Square pick-up circle outside TecKnow and Barbour.

A bit of holiday normalcy, in an abnormal year!

I wrote about the Westport Woman’s Club’s gingerbread house fundraiser the other day (click here for details — it’s a great cause!).

Here’s a bit more: It would not have been possible without the help of 2 big chain stores. Michael’s provided a number of gingerbread kits at a great discount — and Trader Joe’s donated 10 more. That’s the holiday spirit!

A few of the Westport Woman’s Club’s gingerbread houses.

Tom Cook sends this photo. It shows a squirrel at Longshore enjoying Tom’s PB&J sandwich during his last round of golf for the year.

(Photo/Tom Cook)

And finally … Ted Nugent turns 72 today.


‘Tis The Season…

…for “Messiah.”

Handel’s soaring oratorio is as much a part of the holiday season as “Feliz Navidad,” fruitcake and fantasies of winter wonderlands.  Sometimes it seems as if everyone except the Lubavitcher Chorus chimes in.

But Westporters should take note of two special performances.

George Friedrich Handel

On Saturday, Dec. 19 the Norwalk Symphony Orchestra and the Mendelssohn Choir of Connecticut offer a joint “Messiah” production. Their 4th annual holiday co-presentation is set for Norwalk Concert Hall, at 8 p.m.

The NSO is celebrating its 70th season; MCC, its 25th. There are plenty of Westporters involved — Elaine Arnow, Marjorie Freilich-Den, Richard Epstein, Anna Czekaj-Farber, Margeaux Johansson, Jennifer Judge, Carol Maloney, Yvonne Senturia, Nicholas Thiemann, Andrea Turner and Audrey Williams — and their lusty song will be heard, no doubt, far beyond East Avenue.

Three days later — on Tuesday, Dec. 22 — Alice Lipson will appear at Avery Fisher Hall (8 p.m.).  She’s best known as the choral director at Staples (where “Messiah” highlights the annual Candlelight Concert).  At Lincoln Center, she’ll serve as a guest conductor.

Alice will conduct nearly 3,000 singers — the audience — in this magnificent event.  Be sure to bring your own score.


70 Years Of NSO

Remember 1939?  Neither do I.

I do know it was the year World War II began in Europe; the year of the New York World’s Fair, and the year both “Wizard of Oz” and “Gone with the Wind” were released.

I did not know 1939 was the year the Norwalk Symphony Orchestra played its first concert.

But that makes sense, considering this is the venerable organization’s 70th anniversary.  To celebrate, they kick off their 2009-10 season with a special concert this Saturday (8 p.m., Norwalk Concert Hall).  Included are two pieces from their 1st-ever performance (Gliere’s Russian Sailor’s Dance and Beethoven’s First Symphony), and — in honor of 1959’s ground-breaking all-Charles Ives concert — the Connecticut composer’s The Unannounced Question.

    Westporter Ken Olson, president of the Norwalk Symphony Orchestra board

Westporter Ken Olson, president of the Norwalk Symphony Orchestra board

Three Westporters perform with the Norwalk Symphony Orchestra:  bassoonist Richard Epstein, and violinists Elaine Arnow and Marjorie Freilich-Den.

In addition, Westporters Winston Allen, Lee Greenberg, Phil Nourie, Steve Nevas, Ken Olson and Allen Raymond serve on the NSO board.

(For further information, including tickets, click here or call 203-847-8844.  The concert is preceded by a free lecture, at 7 p.m.)