The Bakersfield Masterworks Chorale 2013-14 season is called "Here We Go!" and the chorale is inviting new singers to come along for the ride.
The chorale celebrated its 80th anniversary last season with a look back at its traditions. Music director Robert Provencio said the new season is a look ahead to a new repertoire, new education programs, even a new name -- Bakersfield Master Chorale.
"We are crossing the 't's' and dotting the 'i's' in keeping with the requirements of being a California corporation," said Provencio, who explained that the chorale is in the process of renewing its 501(c)3 application with the state, which requires the new name, among other things. Provencio said the process has inspired a revision in the chorale's constitution and bylaws, its organization and many other traditions that date back decades.
"The old title was a little bit limiting," he said. "It seemed the chorale would only sing 'master works,' but that's not true."
"Mainly what it does is open the door to the repertoire we've already been doing and a lot more," Provencio said.
That expanded repertoire would include commissioned works, musical theater, "pops" music, multicultural music and other genres -- music to appeal to a wide audience and a wide group of singers. Provencio said he and the chorale's board of directors are taking a long-term view.
"The performing arts in our community are at times really threatened," he said. "And unless we who are practitioners don't find ways to be engaging with the community, then I think we face a very short and gloomy future."
The chorale will still present three major events during the season -- the annual Christmas concert, a joint performance with the Bakersfield Symphony Orchestra, and its spring "pops" concert. The repertoire is largely familiar: excerpts from Handel's oratorio "Messiah," along with Benjamin Britten's "A Ceremony of Carols" at Christmas; Giuseppe Verdi's "Requiem" in March; and American and Italian music in May.
Supporting the performances are new or expanded programs to help young musicians -- an artist development program for singers and conductors; a children's choir; complimentary tickets for selected junior high and high school choral singers; updated marketing and outreach activities.
Provencio, who took over as music director last year, said he spent his first year learning what the "chorale was all about."
"One does not come into a leadership position making changes wholesale," said Provencio, noting that it was necessary for him and the board of directors to identify what the chorale really wants to be.
"Then you're in a position to chart a course together we all could commit to," Provencio said.
In addition to the new, the chorale is reviving a long-dormant tradition -- a European tour. Next summer, the chorale will travel to Italy to perform in Florence and sing High Mass at St. Mark's in Venice and at the Vatican -- with opportunities for sight-seeing and singing with local musicians.
Even with significant growth last year, the chorale is recruiting new singers in open rehearsals on Sept. 3 and 9. Provencio said all voice types are welcome to "sit-in" with the chorale for a rehearsal, as part of an audition process he said is realistic and non-threatening.
"They have a chance to sing with the returning singers," Provencio said. "They experience how we work, interact and socialize with each other; how we solve problems."
At the end of the rehearsal, the guest singers will be asked to sing a verse of either "Amazing Grace" or "My Country, 'Tis of Thee," and be tested on their ability to sing musical examples by ear.
"The assessment goes into a queue and then once they are done, they go to the board of directors for a decision," Provencio said.
The chorale is interested in all singers, the director said.
"It's not the voice type so much as the interests, experience and the willingness to get involved with this wonderful, wonderful organization.
"It's also an opportunity to affect the community on a cultural and educational level that I think is pretty unique," Provencio said.