Making Waves: May Festival Chorus Members Build Community On and Off Stage

Cincinnati’s May Festival Chorus is extraordinary for many reasons—it’s the oldest continuous choral festival in the Western Hemisphere, it serves as the chorus for the world-class Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra throughout the year, and perhaps most surprisingly, it is made up entirely of volunteers. Over 100 men and women ages 18 to 70+ rehearse at least three hours each week from September through May to bring choral masterworks and new commissions to the region.

The May Festival Chorus draws its membership from all over the Tri-State and from all different backgrounds, bringing people together who might never otherwise have met, but who share a passion and dedication for vocal music. Many chorus members have been singing with the choir for several years—or even decades -- and the friendships and partnerships they make in the process enrich their lives and our community in surprising ways.

Lauren Peters began singing with the chorus eight years ago, shortly after moving to Mason.  She enjoys singing with her husband, a former member of the May Festival Youth Chorus, and says that the process keeps her connected to her artistic roots. “Many of our closest friends are in the chorus.  There are several people we socialize with on a regular basis...and former chorus members that we've remained close to.  For many of us, it's like a second family.”

Lauren is also a member of Cincapella, a small vocal group that experiments with more contemporary pop music and performs at small local venues like art galleries and Northside Tavern. Many chorus members sing with their church and temple choirs, on local community theatre stages, and in small events throughout the region. 

Sally Harper has sung with the chorus for 41 years and has spent many hours outside of rehearsal with her fellow singers.  “I have made many close friendships in the chorus.  A group of us attend Friday night CSO concerts with dinner out beforehand. Some of us have traveled to Europe together, sailed on a schooner, attended out of town weddings and concerts.  Recently my friend Berdie and I took classes at the OSU Extension to become Master Gardener Volunteers.  The front row of the alto section goes out for dinners on the rare Tuesday nights we are not in rehearsal.”

  Lawrence Coleman

Lawrence Coleman, a chorus member for 15 years who lives in Kennedy Heights, also finds that May Festival Chorus has connected him to a wider community. “I've recorded, had other singing engagements and opportunities, all because I've been connected to the May Festival Chorus and the people in it.” Lawrence also sings with the contemporary gospel group Fo Mo Brothers, performing at churches throughout the region and at the Midwest Black Family Reunion. He also volunteers with District A arts collaboration in Kennedy Heights, all the while meeting new artists, collaborators, neighbors, and friends.

When asked about how singing with the May Festival has influenced his life, Lawrence says, “It has really confirmed my belief that all people are basically the same even though there can be very stark differences. I have friends in the chorus from very different walks of life. We come together for the single purpose of making great music. People of different backgrounds and schools of thought can do more than coexist. We can learn to celebrate our differences when we have a common goal.“

From building friendships across the region to adding to Cincinnati’s long tradition of excellence in vocal music, Cincinnati May Festival Chorus creates community through the arts.