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Sarasota musicians come together for Key Chorale's 35th anniversary

Key Chorale’s 2019-2020 season focuses on collaboration and community engagement.

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  • | 6:00 a.m. September 24, 2019
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Key Chorale has several new recruits for its all-star lineup this season. From adding dancers to the mix to combining with a symphony the group has never performed with before, 2019-2020 is all about working with other local arts organizations to elevate one another. “Everyone gets something out of a collaboration — if it’s one-sided, it’s not very vibrant,” says Artistic
Director Joseph Caulkins. “The best collaborations are those where everyone feels they’re getting something of great value.” We sat down with Caulkins to learn what audiences can expect from the upcoming season, and why he chose to partner with the
organizations on the program.


‘American Roots: The Gospel

When: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 18

Where: First United Methodist Church, 104 S. Pineapple Ave.

When: 4 p.m. Oct. 19

Where: St. Boniface Episcopal Church, 5615 Midnight Pass Road

Tickets for both shows: $30-$40; preferred seating $75

When: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 26

Where: Venice Presbyterian Church, 825 The Rialto, Venice

Tickets: $40; preferred seating $75


This one has been a long time coming. Caulkins has been trying to organize a collaboration with Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe for more than four years, and he’s happy to make it happen this season with a show dedicated to a genre the chorale’s audience doesn’t hear often: African American gospel music. 

“When you look at the audience at a Key Chorale show and a show at Westcoast, you see almost no crossover,” he says. “We’re bringing two audiences together to hear some great choral music.”

Caulkins notes that WBTT is without a home this fall while the troupe’s new theater is being built, so the timing was perfect to join forces for a high-energy show with soloists from both groups and WBTT dancers. This third installment in the “American Roots” concert series is a chamber music adaptation of the WBTT show “How I Got Over,” which focuses on the rich history of spiritual music.

“We’ve done a lot of gospel music, and we love it, but with [WBTT artistic director] Nate Jacobs, we have even more opportunity to learn it from a master,” Caulkins adds. “I love this style of music, but I want to make sure when we’re performing it, we’re doing it as authentically as we can.”


‘Winter Dreams’

When: 4 p.m. Dec. 1 (doors open at 2:30 p.m. for a 3 p.m. “Behind the Music” lecture with Caulkins)

Where: Sarasota Opera House, 61 N. Pineapple Ave.

Tickets: $20-$75


Forget sweater weather (or the lack thereof). This concert is bringing the essence of winter to sunny Sarasota.

“This is music that captures that frost, that sense of winter in a dreamlike sense,” Caulkins says. “It’s not necessarily music people will recognize but music that will paint a scene.”

The star of the show is Karl Jenkins’ “Stella Natalis,” a colorful piece Caulkins has wanted to do but never found the right opportunity. The right project came along this year for the group’s second collaboration with The Sarasota Ballet’s Studio Company. The variety of tempos makes it the perfect composition to pair with movement, he says, and he’s excited to see the choreography that will invoke the musical themes of peace, goodwill, compassion and joy.

This concert will also feature Sarasota Orchestra Concertmaster Daniel Jordan in Vivaldi’s “Icy Winter,”and Principal Trumpet Anthony Limoncelli. In the second half, several professional performers from Circus Arts Conservatory will perform a piece on aerial silks to invoke an icicle-like imagery.


‘A Very Merry Holiday Pops’

When: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 20; 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 21

Where: Venice Performing Arts Center, 1 Indian Ave., Building 5, Venice

Tickets: $27-$51


Key Chorale joins forces with The Venice Symphony for the first time in this holiday smorgasbord featuring classics “Deck the Halls” and “Carol of the Bells,” along with holiday film favorites, such as “Home Alone” and “The Polar Express” — all led by Troy Quinn, the symphony’s music director. “Every square inch of the stage will be utilized,” Caulkins says with a laugh. “I think we’ll be hanging from the rafters a bit. … I think about 180-190 singers and instrumentalists on stage. It’ll be very festive for certain.”


The DePue Brothers Band will perform in “American Roots: Grassical.”
The DePue Brothers Band will perform in “American Roots: Grassical.”

‘American Roots: Grassical’

When: 4 p.m. Jan. 11

Where: St. Boniface Episcopal Church, 5615 Midnight Pass Road

When: 4 p.m. Jan. 12

Where: Venice Presbyterian Church, 825 The Rialto, Venice

Tickets: $30-$40


American Roots is the concept that refuses to quit growing.

“The first year we did just a little bluegrass because I knew they were going to tell me I could never program in this town again,” Caulkins says with a grin. “But they liked it, so last year we did all bluegrass, and this year we decided we’d expand what we’re doing, so we hired an eight-man bluegrass band.”

The DePue Brothers Band features four classically trained, virtuosic violinists that also happen to be talented bluegrass fiddle players, he says. Those four combine with a bassist, drummer and banjo guitarist to create “grassical,” a style they’ve coined as a fusion of bluegrass and classical music with hints of jazz.

“What’s great about programs like this is you’re creating a genre that doesn’t really exist,” Caulkins says. “It’s interesting but a challenge because you create the concept, but then you have to create the music to fit the concept.”


‘Haydn’s Creation’

When: 4 p.m. Feb. 15 and 16 (doors open at 2:30 p.m. for a 3 p.m. “Behind the Music” lecture with Caulkins)

Where: First United Methodist Church, 104 S. Pineapple Ave.

Tickets: $20-$55


Every year, Key Chorale’s season includes a masterwork concert, and this year that concert features the return of soloist Mary Wilson. Back with the chorale for the first time in three years, Caulkins is excited to have her on board for this piece because her voice is “perfectly suited” for it.

He loves this work because it tells both the biblical story of creation from the Book of Genesis and Milton’s version in “Paradise Lost.” The combined texts are depicted in a moving musical fashion that Caulkins says will be performed by 40 members of the Sarasota Orchestra.

“You hear the tigers leaping; you hear the giant whales; you hear the sun rising; you hear ‘And God said light,’” he says. “He’s really painting the scenes of these creatures and animals and plants in a way that’s stunning.”

Wilson will be joined by baritone Kyle Ferrill and tenor Brad Diamond.


“Cirque Des Voix: A Decade of Wonder” features a collaboration with the Circus Arts Conservatory.
“Cirque Des Voix: A Decade of Wonder” features a collaboration with the Circus Arts Conservatory.

‘Cirque Des Voix: A Decade of Wonder’

When: Various times March 20-22

Where: The Circus Arts Conservatory Ulla Searing Big Top,
140 University Town Center Drive

Tickets: $20-$55


Perhaps Key Chorale’s most well-known show — an annual collaboration with Circus Arts Conservatory — is turning 10 this year. Why has it worked for so long?

“It’s the synergy of that show,” Caulkins says. “It’s one thing to see a great circus performer doing a great job, but it’s another to have them backed by 110 voices and a 40-piece orchestra. It has an electric anxiety of sorts. Any circus art that isn’t a comedic art is trying to create a sense of drama and suspense. And when you have the live music with it, it’s just really palpable.”

Caulkins also notes this event is only possible in a town with a circus history as rich as Sarasota’s. “It’s a celebration that’s uniquely Sarasotan,” he says.


‘Tomorrow’s Voices Today’

When: 3 p.m. May 9

Where: Riverview Performing Arts Center, 1 Ram Way

Tickets: $10


Every Key Chorale season closes with a celebration of Sarasota’s emerging voices, and this year’s concert features Booker, Riverview and Sarasota high school choirs performing both separately and alongside Key Chorale.

Caulkins’ favorite part of every Tomorrow’s Voices Today experience is the mentorship between the Key Chorale vocalists and the student singers, and he knows this year will be no exception.

“There aren’t many times when you see an intergenerational festival, so it’s neat to see a 16-year-old next to an 82-year-old — many of my older folks gain another 110 grandchildren for a weekend,” he says. “It’s powerful to see the kind of care and passion that the kids have for their music.”




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