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Monday, Nov. 4, 2013

Watershed Moments of the Milwaukee Choral Artists

A Conversation with founder Sharon Hansen

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A few years after moving to the city in 1994, Sharon Hansen began pioneering the Milwaukee Choral Artists with tireless ambition. Hansen discusses her past and future after leading the MCA’s final concert in April of 2013.

 

How was your life impacted by so many performances with the Milwaukee Choral Artists?

My 15 years with the group were replete with unrelenting toil, astonishing friendships, exquisite music making, remarkable collaborations, unending frustration, and inexhaustible optimism. MCA was so unique in that it was the only professional women's vocal ensemble in the Midwest. We sang performances for local, regional, and national audiences and events; and with a CD on the Clarion/ Gothic label as well as Internet presence, the group has reached listeners the world over.

 

Compared to a more traditional performer, can the workload of a music director be especially taxing?

Goodness, yes, the workload is exhausting. When I founded the group in 1998, I had to establish a non-profit organization with all the requisite legal documentation and paperwork. Then for the first 10 years, I served as both the music director and the managing director—which involved fundraising, public relations, and artistic management—for no salary. After 10 years, we were fortunate to receive a grant from the Greater Milwaukee Foundation. It was an exhausting labor of love but bringing art to our community is important work.

 

MCA's renditions so often resounded with haunting beauty. Why do you think that kind of enchanting/ lonesome dynamic is so profound?

The human voice is poignant. As singers, our audience looks directly into our eyes; there is no instrument or score between us. Of paramount importance is the communication of meaning and emotion through text and melodic line. We are the mouthpieces for the poet—sharing thoughts on love, pain, politics and death. This is a deeply personal and intimate connection. Such intimacy is often missing in our frantic, 21st century lives.

 

Which songs and performances do you remember the most fondly?

A simply unforgettable performance was MCA's guest appearance at the national conference of the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians in August of 2009. The venue was the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Windhover Hall with the stage positioned near the lake. The audience and I (in my position as conductor) were facing the lake, gazing out those beautiful windows as the sun began to set. We sang “Bright Stars are Rising” and the stars came out with sparkling clarity. We sang “Amazing Grace” and the moon cast a transcendental shimmer on the still waters of Lake Michigan. It was the perfect example of serendipity.

 

What are your future plans?

My husband and I are moving to the Phoenix metro area where we will be able to enjoy more outdoor living! We have a daughter, a son-in-law, and two grandchildren that need more grandparent time. I'm passionate about social justice and volunteering for Goodwill Industries. And if someone should call, I'd love to continue guest conducting. I don't expect music will diminish in its importance to me anytime soon.

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