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SoJo choral arts works hard to keep performing and bring music to the valley

Dec 01, 2017 08:00AM ● Published by Keyra Kristoffersen

The Sounds of the Season choir of South Jordan performs once a year for the winter holidays. (Matt Tanner)

Gallery: Sounds of the Season [2 Images] Click any image to expand.

A staple of the city of South Jordan, the Sounds of the Season, is holding its 13th annual holiday concert Saturday, Dec. 2 with two performances at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. at Bingham High School.

“We want to give back to our South Jordan community,” said McKell Scanlan, who has been with the community choir since 2005 and has acted as producer for the annual concert for the last five years. 

The choir is at a crossroads, said Scanlan, because the group recently became a nonprofit in 2016, independent from the city of South Jordan, forming the SoJo Choral Arts. The question has been whether to go out with a bang after so many years or try to find a qualified director to soon take over for the group’s founder and director, Marlene Stanley. 

“We realized that Marlene is aging, and for us to continue on, we need to be able to establish some honorarium funds in order to attract a qualified person to take the reins and take us into the future,” Scanlan said.

After moving to Utah from Houston, Texas, Stanley, who had a musical background, began the Sounds of the Season choir in 2004, and the DeciBelles, an audition women’s choir of around 40 members that began in 2002, and was incorporated in to the SoJo Choral Arts when it went independent. 

“DeciBelles work is based on studies of how music affects the aging brain and the health benefits,” said Scanlan.

Both choirs are non-denominational and boast more than 200 singers and orchestra musicians, directed by Barbara Peterson and orchestra concert master Jeremy Starr. The DeciBelles perform between 60 and 100 events throughout the valley at civic and church events and at senior living facilities. The Sounds of the Season rehearse one to two times a week for three months before putting on its main concert the first Saturday of every December. 

“It’s pretty remarkable for what it is,” said Scanlan of the groups, whose rehearsals function similarly to weekly workshops.

Choir members come from various musical backgrounds that range from former Mormon Tabernacle Choir experience to musical directors to performing with the University Chorale. Many are from South Jordan and range in age. After spending much of their lives in music, the members want to give back. Scanlan uses it as therapy for damaged vocal chords.

“We’ve always been about community,” she said. “We’ve built this community of musicians. We try to recruit across the spectrum and get a good balance.”

Since becoming an independent body, the SoJo Choral Arts have had a crash-course in grant writing and raising funds on its own. 

In past years, some funds from the city and other groups were allocated to the choirs, along with perks such as free use of the community center for rehearsals. Without that backing, the groups have moved to a local church, but with the help of fundraising, Scanlan said they’re hoping to be able to afford renting a different space, such as a school, by next year.

“We’re at a tipping point because even though we’re not new, we’re big and strong, we’ve got an organization with a volunteer administrative staff of 30,” said Scanlan.

An organization this large and established has its own set of challenges when suddenly being an independent body because of the expectations inherent. The upside is that so many love their program that they are willing to provide help. 

Lisa Eccles, of the Eccles Foundation, has provided a grant that will help them through next year. Scanlan is pleased that they understand what the SoJo Choral Arts is about and the direction that they hope to head in the coming years, particularly finding and hiring a new paid assistant director to begin next year and the ability to raise funds to benefit charities. 

For more information about upcoming performances or for information about donating to or joining the SoJo Choral Arts, visit: http://www.sojochoralarts.org/

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