In November of 1977, Director Robert Eaton noticed a significant absence of choruses in the Northborough/Marlborough area dedicated to the performance of classical choral music. After discussion with a few musical friends, he decided to put out a call for interested singers to attend a rehearsal. The result was that in May 1978, twenty-eight singers presented in concert Mozart’s Requiem and Bach’s cantata Ein Feste Burg. Organ accompaniment was used and the concert was held at Trinity Episcopal Church in Shrewsbury.
At first the Mastersingers performed two concerts a year using organ and some soloists from within the ensemble. In 1980, the first “Messiah Sing” was presented, and this has continued as an annual tradition. In May 1981, the first concert with orchestra was presented utilizing local area instrumentalists at a very modest wage scale. In addition, the chorus collaborated with the Marlborough Symphony in a presentation of La Traviata. Other collaborations over the years have occurred with Symphony Pro Musica, Worcester Polytechnic Brass Ensemble, UMass Percussion Ensemble, Algonquin Regional High School Chorus, Westborough High School Chorus, and Eastern Connecticut Symphony.
AVM circa 1979
The 1983-84 season was the first three-concert season (two of which were with orchestra) in addition to the “Messiah Sing”. The 1999-2000 concert season saw orchestra with all three concerts. As the chorus of the Mastersingers grew in size and matured musically, professional soloists were retained and freelance musicians were used for the orchestra. Both decisions greatly enhanced the quality of the Mastersingers’ performances, but greatly increased the budget as well.
The Assabet Valley Mastersingers has been noted for the diversity of its programming. It was recognized by the Alfred Nash Patterson Foundation for concerts that have included contemporary and lesser-known choral masterworks as well as the major choral classics. In March 1996, the Mastersingers commissioned and premiered a major choral work for chorus and orchestra by Gwyneth Walker, River Songs. For the twentieth anniversary concert, the Mastersingers commissioned and performed A Song for St. Cecilia by Clifton Noble, Jr. In March of 2006 AVM premiered still another commission–that of Massachusetts resident Pamela Marshall. Her Weaving the World is a delightfully imaginative paean to the natural world, which nonetheless acknowledges hidden harsh and troubling forces. The program, titled ‘Three New England Women of Song’, featured a pre-concert panel discussion with Marshall, joined by composer Gwyneth Walker, and a stand-in for Amy Beach.
AVM in 2000
Beginning with the May 2018 40th anniversary concert, the Assabet Valley Mastersingers will begin a year-long celebration which will include past commissioned works and culminate with the premiere of a new composition being created for AVM by Cynthia Lee Wong–The Emperor’s New Clothes. Now a faculty member of the School of Music of University of Nevada, Ms. Wong has many commissions with prestigious symphonies to her credit; she also has a local connection as a former student of AVM’s founder and Artistic Director Dr. Robert Eaton, at Algonquin Regional High School.
The positive influence of the AVM’s first forty years may be judged by the substantial size of audiences at some recent concerts. Especially high turnout was noted for Voices of Light in 2013; Annelies in 2015; and the 2015 concert including the Mozart Requiem, when the venue was filled to capacity. Audiences are drawn from between 20 to 25 towns in Central MA and frequently include listeners from closer to Boston, as well as from other New England states. Another positive influence must surely be the benefit derived by the 75 or so chorus members, who have widely praised the remarkable experience the AVM and its gifted Artistic Director provide: educational challenge, personal growth in skill, and the joy of collaboration in presenting many inspired and successful concerts.