When local vocal ensemble Bel Canto takes the stage this February it marks a new chapter in the history of the Madison chorale.

This year’s winter concerts will be the first for new artistic director Bob Burnett. Burnett took the reins after former director Lauren Estes moved to California.

Burnett is pleased with the progress the group has made since it began rehearsing in October 2018 and is looking forward to the concerts. The directorship gives the veteran director a new opportunity to pursue his musical passion. Prior to becoming director at Bel Canto, Burnett served nine seasons as director of the Blue Ridge Chorale of Culpeper. Burnett has been involved in singing and making music throughout his life but has made it his post-retirement career. He enjoyed his tenure with the Blue Ridge Chorale, but decided after nine seasons it was time for a change for both himself and the chorale.

“The time had come for change,” said Burnett. “It was time for me to move on and do something else and it was also time for someone else to bring their vision and energy [to the Blue Ridge Chorale]. Things were just getting stale. They needed someone else to take the group another direction and I needed a chance to try something new. I had performed with Bel Canto before, so I was familiar with this amazing small chorale group. The 18 members are each as talented as any singer that I have ever worked with. There is a lot of talent for a small local group.”

When asked about his vision for the future of Bel Canto, Burnett is quick to point out that the director can’t determine the course; his job is to guide the group according to their talents.

“I’m not sure where we’ll go,” he said. “The vision will become cleared as we go on. We will select music that suits the ability and skills of each member and in turn that will continue to guide us in a direction. For now, we’ll focus on making good music and eventually that will help steer us one direction or another. Right now, we are still getting to know each other and are preparing for the winter concerts.”

The choir is enthusiastic about the new leadership and is hopeful Bel Canto will continue to advance.

“We’re all enjoying his leadership and enthusiasm very much,” said Mary O’ Meara. “We all learned a lot from [former director] Lauren and now with Bob we are striving to get that much further.”

Accompanist Fay Utz has worked with Bel Canto since 2012 alongside directors Amy Coddington and Lauren Estes.

“As there is with any change there has been a period of adjustment,” said Utz. “Since starting rehearsal in October we’ve gotten to know each other. Bob has a great knowledge of music and the ability to get the most out of the group. Now that we’ve gotten to know each other it is really coming together.”

The 18-member auditioned vocal ensemble will perform with its new director Feb.15 at 7:30 p.m. at Trinity United Methodist Church in Orange and Feb. 17 at 4 p.m. at Piedmont Episcopal Church in Madison. The program is titled Viva La Música, which translated from Spanish means long live music because the selections are from over several hundred years and celebrate the love of music. The concerts are free to attend, but donations are accepted.

Bel Canto is an all-volunteer mixed chamber choir based in Madison. The vocal ensemble was formed in 2003 by members of the disbanded Montpelier Singers. The group has performed a wide variety of music from classical to contemporary including, madrigals, spirituals, pop songs and Broadway tunes.

New director Burnett is enthusiastic about the wide repertoire of music that Bel Canto has performed.

“I had a teacher once tell me to listen to any and all types of music,” said Burnett. “I’ve since followed that advice. For people like us singing and making music isn’t something we do, it’s a part of who we are. No matter where we are and what we’re doing we will be making music.”

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