Professor Jim Chapman, founder of the Choral Union and its director for 37 years, died in February, 2011. His passing was an occasion of deep sadness for all those who had performed under his direction, and also for countless listeners who had enjoyed the performances of the Choral Union.
From the beginning, Dr. Chapman's knowledge, vision, dedication, and conducting ability brought out the best from the many performers who, over the years, have belonged to the Choral Union. He repeatedly presented the group with challenging concert programs drawn from a broad scope of choral music history.
In his pursuit of perfection, Dr. Chapman could, at times, be insufferably demanding. But in his achievement of perfection, he earned the devotion of his singers. Those who were willing to follow him into concert halls and churches old Vermont meeting houses, recording studios, even across the Atlantic, and who struggled into Elizabethan costumes every Christmas season for over 20 years, were rarely disappointed with the Chapman-led performances to which they contributed.
There is no question that Jim Chapman loved the Choral Union. What is clearer, now that he has left us, is how much love we felt for him and the joy that we shared when performing at a level that approached the standards that he set for us.
Originally called the University of Vermont Choral Union, the ensemble was founded in 1967 by James G. Chapman, Professor of Music at the University of Vermont. Dr. Chapman directed the choir until his retirement in 2004. At that time, the group's name changed to the Vermont Choral Union, and Gary Moreau, well-known Vermont music educator and singer, succeeded Dr. Chapman as director through 2010. Carol Reichard, director of the Colchester Community Chorus, served as the Choral Union's guest conductor in Spring 2011. The Vermont Choral Union welcomed Jeff Rehbach in Fall 2011, who continued to direct the Choral Union until his retirement in May 2018. Lisa Jablow, DMA, joined the Choral Union as its new Music Director for the 2018-19 season. Steven Klimowski, founder and artistic director of the Vermont Contemporary Music Ensemble served as interim music director for the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 seasons.
In 1983, the Choral Union began to present its popular carol dinners at Southwick Hall at UVM. The Carol Dinners series, with its music, dancing, and dining, soon expanded to Rutland and Stowe, and lasted for 22 years. The dinners inspired recordings—Music for a Carol Dinner and Welcome Yule— still available for sale at VCU concerts. The Choral Union also produced recordings featuring composers who lived and worked in Vermont during the years 1790-1810, including the works of Justin Morgan. The four Vermont Harmony recordings, with companion music scores, culminated a decade of extensive research by Dr. Chapman.
For 10 years, the Choral Union presented December concerts in downtown Burlington, hosted by Cathedral Arts, and in St. Albans. In 2020 in response to COVID-19, VCU was forced to postpone their Spring concert indefinitely and pivoted to keep singing together, presenting a virtual Holiday concert in December of 2020.
The ensemble typically travels to offer its spring programs in various locales across the state – including our first appearance in Montpelier in spring 2016– and at Saint Michael's College each year. The Choral Union has participated in the sixth annual Vermont Sings for Peace concert, and in collaborative concerts with the Bellows Free Academy Chorus II directed by Armand Messier, the Essex Children's Choir directed by Constance Price, and the Middlebury Community Chorus. The group was honored in 2014 to premiere new works by Vermont composers Dennis Báthory-Kitsz and Michael Close. The ensemble has received grants from Choral Arts New England, Vermont Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Vermont Community Foundation to support outreach for senior citizens in the community and for the commissioning of a new choral suite, Green and Gold, by Christina Whitten Thomas for the Choral Union's 50th anniversary in 2017.