Brickstone Chorale Working Towards More Prominent Voice
When Joan Nobiling first moved to Brickstone by St. John’s with her husband Gerry in 2015, she noticed an interesting phenomenon going on throughout the community. “We would walk around and hear people singing everywhere we went,” Joan says with a laugh. “Everyone seemed to be doing it.”
What Joan did not know at the time was that a formal group of musicians was responsible for the abundance of melodies she was hearing throughout her new neighborhood.
It all began rather organically as a handful of residents that started singing carols together around the holidays. In the weeks that followed, a core group of singers committed to regular rehearsals with the goal of eventually performing in front of crowds. In the four years since the Brickstone Chorale was formed it has grown into a collection of nearly two dozen polished voices. As they developed into a more cohesive ensemble, their collective voices have become even more powerful.
Ruth Spina and her husband Tom host chorale rehearsals in their Brickstone bungalow every Monday afternoon. Ruth has been instrumental in organizing and shaping the direction of the group from the beginning. “This group of elders wants to show each other and the community that despite their age, they can produce beautiful music,” explains Ruth, now serving as Director of the Chorale. To meet that lofty vision, the group created a strict set of criteria for incoming members. New singers are to have sung in a formal group past their high school years and also be proficient in reading music and singing in parts. Of course, singers must also be Brickstone residents to join the group.
Throughout its history, the Brickstone Chorale has played dozens of engagements at Brickstone and for neighbors at St. John’s Meadows and St. John’s Home. The ensemble has been a staple at patriotic events marking Veterans Day and Armed Forces Day and stages regular performances during “Coffee with Paul” on Friday mornings in the Brickstone Wintergarden. Over the past year or so this singing group has begun setting their sights on performing in new venues for new audiences. A recent addition to the Brickstone Chorale no doubt has sparked these aspirations to extend the reach of the group.
Ruth Spina has spent a lifetime teaching music and leading musical groups. She started teaching piano in a private studio when she was 14 years old. She has played organ in church and served as conductor for a church choir. As a result, she knows musical talent when she sees it. “He came into the group as a bass,” says Ruth of Chuck Krusenstjerna. At the time Ruth was serving as conductor for the chorale, but she realized Chuck’s talents could take the group to another level. “Gradually it became obvious that he was willing to conduct.”
From 1978 until his retirement in 2000, Chuck Krusenstjerna served as the Director of Admissions and Alumni Relations at the Eastman School of Music. Each year, he was responsible for assessing, auditioning, and ultimately selecting the freshman and graduate classes from the school’s 1,600 or so applicants from around the world. Chuck also taught music history and conducting throughout his career, which also included stints at the Universities of South Dakota and West Virginia.
Chuck and his wife Deanna moved to Brickstone almost two years ago. After taking a few months to settle in, he joined the chorale and was soon approached to conduct. “Ruth said ‘come give me a hand’ so I did,” remembers Chuck.
According to Ruth, the role of conductor in a choir is “to assess and develop the abilities of the group’s singers.” So it should be no surprise that after spending decades assessing and developing some of the nation’s top musical talent, installing Chuck in this role with the Brickstone Chorale has paid immediate dividends. “I couldn’t be more thrilled with what he has brought to the group,” says Ruth. “He is constantly challenging the singers to take it to the next level.”
The Brickstone Chorale is now entering their fourth year and weekly rehearsals at the Spina home have become more and more challenging. As they gain greater confidence and move towards newer, bolder objectives—they hope to someday perform at the bi-annual Greater Rochester Choral Consortium concert and there is even talk of recording a CD—even the slightest beat, breath, or phrase is up for scrutiny. According to Ruth, Chuck is moving the group to be more confident singing a cappella. While Chuck enjoys what he calls “the nuts and bolts” of shaping the group and moving singers down a common path, his greatest enjoyment comes from seeing it all come together during a performance. “The goal is to make music. The reward is when that happens.”
To learn more about the Brickstone Chorale and other great aspects of the St. John’s experience, read the Spring 2017 issue of St. John’s Living.