Music | Oregon

Consonare Chorale Gives Choir Concerts An Innovative Twist

OPB | March 18, 2014 midnight | Updated: March 18, 2014 9:58 a.m.

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Consonare Chorale collaborated with Portland Taiko drummers in 2011.

Consonare Chorale collaborated with Portland Taiko drummers in 2011.

Scott Ryan / Consonare Chorale

Taiko drummers. A mariachi band. Irish dancers.

This may not be what you’d expect to encounter at a traditional choral concert. But the unexpected is exactly what you’ll find when you attend a performance by Portland-based Consonare Chorale.

For the past eight years, Consonare Chorale has been spicing up the age-old art form of choral music and building a solid fan base at the same time.

“That’s what separates Consonare. We’re accessible. We’re for people who don’t even know they love choral music yet. We’re trying to make this music come alive, not talk about how it existed at its pinnacle in the 1800s or the 1600s,” says the choir’s Artistic Director and Conductor Georgina Philippson.

Consonare’s shows offer a variety of musical styles, from traditional to innovative, under a unifying theme. Their upcoming performance, Feel The Spirit, features the gospel trio The Brown Sisters, consisting of Leah Harrison, Rachel Harrison and Dorcas Smith, accompanied by their brother, Thomas Brown, drumming on buckets. The concert will showcase music ranging from the prayerful and haunting Agnus Dei to music by Rachmaninoff and the spirituals of Moses Hogan. The choir will also sing Baba Yetu (The Lord’s Prayer in Swahili), which is the Grammy Award-winning theme song to the video game Civilization IV.

Artistic Director and Conductor Georgina Philippson created Consonare Chorale eight years ago.

Artistic Director and Conductor Georgina Philippson created Consonare Chorale eight years ago.

Lisa Cornell / Consonare Chorale

Consonare’s 46 singers range from ages 20 to 70, and have lately attracted several new members recently out of college, says Philippson. She says the variety of ages gives the choir the versatility and agility to handle four- to 18-part music with sounds that reach from pure, smooth, clean tones to full vibrato.

The younger singers have helped draw larger, more youthful audiences, says Philippson. She is proud that their shows consistently fill 500 seats, an accomplishment for any choir.

“The younger members bring energy and excitement that the experienced members appreciate, and the experienced members bring wisdom,” says Philippson.

Unfortunately, most people stop singing after high school, says Philippson. She wants to change that.

“Most of the people who are in the choir saw us live in performance and said ‘I have to be a part of that,’” says Philippson. “We want to get people excited about what we do and hopefully inspire them to keep doing music in their own backyard. If they don’t keep doing music and if they don’t find and foster a passion for music, I won’t have a Consonare in 2040.”

Consonare Chorale fills 500 seats in each concert, an enviable number for any choir, says Artistic Director and Conductor Georgina Phillipson.

Consonare Chorale fills 500 seats in each concert, an enviable number for any choir, says Artistic Director and Conductor Georgina Phillipson.

Jon Stuber / Consonare Chorale

The choir’s guest singers for the March 22 concert, The Brown Sisters, grew up singing gospel music in their church. They have fostered their passion for music, performing for more than 30 years.

“A lot of people say our harmony is like one voice because we’re sisters,” says Leah Harrison, the eldest of the three. “There’s something very unique in a sibling group.”

The gospel trio The Brown Sisters: Leah Harrison, Rachel Harrison and Dorcas Smith.

The gospel trio The Brown Sisters: Leah Harrison, Rachel Harrison and Dorcas Smith.

Leah Harrison / The Brown Sisters

The Brown Sisters opened for poet Maya Angelou five times, sang at a celebrity basketball charity event at the house of actor Jamie Foxx and performed with the Oregon Symphony at several gospel Christmas concerts.

“We love touching people’s lives through our music. It’s very uplifting. We get so much joy that we can be a vessel. We know we’ve been given a gift from God,” says Harrison.

Committed to nurturing music lovers, Consonare offers free concert tickets to middle and high school students and college music students. For its show in May, Consonare will be collaborating with elementary school students and will be packing a few surprises.

“Our patrons keep coming back because to a certain degree they don’t know what they’re going to see in the next concert and they want to be surprised a little bit,” says Philippson.

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