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Striving to be musical heartland

Heartland Sings will host conference at Rhinehart


Wheat Williams

Whatzup Features Writer

Published June 8, 2022

Founded in 1997 by Maestro Robert Nance, Fort Wayne’s Heartland Sings is a vocal production company featuring 29 professional vocal artists. 

Throughout the year, the group put on a diverse array of productions spanning not only choral music, but also opera and musical theater, jazz ensemble, and large-scale choral-orchestral works. 

Music education and community outreach are integral components of their work, shown in their motto, “changing the lives of participants and patrons through song.”

Join The Show

From June 16-18, Heartland Sings will be host their first Vocal Arts Conference at Purdue University Fort Wayne. 

The conference is a workshop, master class, and educational event for choral singers and music educators, concluding with participants performing a concert with a full orchestra Saturday.

The educational sessions are $300, but singers who join the chorus can attend all sessions while paying only $25 for sheet music. 

“This is at considerable expense to Heartland Sings, but it was important to us to eliminate all barriers to singers participating,” Nance said. “And the singers will get to perform with a full orchestra in front of a nice audience.” 

If you would like to participate, there is still room, and no audition is required. If you can read music and you have experience singing in your church choir, or any other singing group, you can sign up for a last-minute registration online at heartlandsings.org.

Presenters include Dr. George Shirley, the first African-American to sing lead roles at the Metropolitan Opera; National Medal of Arts recipient Karen Brunssen, past president of the National Association of Teachers of Singing and professor of music at Northwestern University; and Darmon Meader, vocalist, arranger, saxophonist and director of the Grammy Award-winning group New York Voices.

In addition to the chorus rehearsals, topics presented in workshops and master classes include:

Choral singing and directing techniques

Healthy singing from psychological, physical, spiritual, and emotional perspectives

Breathing techniques

Engaging mind-body coordination and vocal vitality throughout the successive stages of life

Yoga and the singing voice

Vocal anatomy and physiology

A kinesthetic approach to vocal production

Master classes across various vocal styles

At 4 p.m. on June 18, the choral workshop will join a full orchestra for “Singing for Life” at Rhinehart Music Center Auer Auditorium. Tickets are $35 in advance and $40 at the door.

On the program are the contemporary one-act opera The Three Hermits by Stephen Paulus and the choral opus Lux Aeterna by Morton Lauridsen. 

The Three Hermits is a setting of a time-honored story by Leo Tolstoy which demonstrates inclusiveness and how God’s love is extended to all humanity. 

Lauridsen’s 1997 choral cycle Lux Aeterna (“Light Eternal”) is presented in tribute to those who have been lost to the pandemic. 

“We must remind ourselves that our nation has lost one million people, but we can provide a testament to peoples’ resilience, and their helpfulness to each other, and to look for positive changes in our community,” Nance said.

Gift Of Song

Nance has spent decades building this group. 

Fort Wayne and the region have always had a strong tradition of singing, not just in choral music, but in all kinds of music. 

In the ’90s, he saw that amateur singers needed the leadership of professionals to realize their potential. 

In those days, he recalls, instrumentalists could make good money doing weddings and parties, while singers weren’t being paid according to their talents. 

He set out to change that by example, and today Heartland Sings, which is a registered nonprofit performing arts group, has a staff of full-time paid singers and teachers as well as contract singers to fill out the ranks in concerts.

The immediate future for Heartland Sings is picking up, although Nance is quick to point out that his group was able to continue throughout the last two years. They took every opportunity to stream performances online and to sing in outdoor concerts amid pandemic lockdowns. 

He sketched out their next season, which has not yet been announced: A Stephen Sondheim musical theater tribute, the traditional Christmas show, and a March concert on civic and socially conscious themes woven around what he calls “The American Fabric.” 

 “Everyone in the community is a thread in the fabric,” Nance said. “We can talk about the textures that creates in our communities.”

Nance speaks eloquently about the role music can play in countering the perception of polarization that different parties seek to impose between people. 

“I don’t think it really exists,” he says, flatly. 

Next summer will be the second Vocal Arts Conference, this time focusing on jazz and pop singing, and featuring Meader and the New York Voices. 

Until then, “We are constantly performing and earning our keep,” Nance said.

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