Arlene Griemsmann has been an active member of the Babylon Chorale for 14 years, and is considered a newbie to the ensemble that has entered its 70th season of musical entertainment. Convening for rehearsals at St. John the Baptist Diocesan High School, the group has attracted members from all generations and far stretches of Long Island.
The chorale has provided seasonal, classical and light musical entertainment on Long Island since 1950. Performing three concerts a year, the chorale performs various forms of music, including classical pieces, Broadway, Bach and the Beatles. Over the 70-year history, the group has performed alongside the South Shore Symphony, Massapequa Symphony, Great Neck Symphony, the Camerata Singers, St. Killian Boy Choir and the Eglevsky Ballet Company. They have often performed in notable locations in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Gettysburg.
Griemsmann said the group’s members are like family.
“The chorale brings people from all walks of life,” she said. “When we are together, we are one unified group. We enjoy making beautiful music and being together. We have a lot of members who are good musicians, former music teachers and others. We welcome people from all backgrounds.”
Griemsmann mentioned that many members reside in Sayville and farther eastward. Jared Berry, the artistic director for the group, said he himself travels from Nassau County to work with the group. He added that many vocal musicians travel up to 40 minutes in each direction to practice and perform as members of the chorale.
“They loved what they saw musically and the people there. We are always welcoming to new members. People have great friendships in the group,” said Berry, who has been the group’s director for seven years, which is a considerable length of time considering his recent predecessors’ average stay of three to four years.
Berry said membership currently hovers around 90, though that has fluctuated over the years, remembering a group of roughly 60 when he first joined. In his time with the Babylon Chorale, he said there has been notable growth in multiple aspects.
“People are in all stages of life, but come together to perform at the highest possible abilities,” he said.
He added that there is a particular emphasis on bringing in college-aged and high school members. Not only is membership free for them, but they also have opportunities to win scholarships to attend vocal institutes. Also wrapped in is the opportunity for a solo performance at the pops concert in June.
“We are making sure music education is a big thing,” Berry said. “It is really important to have access to music and high-quality performance.”
The group holds three performances each year: a holiday concert, a concert of classical repertoire, and a pops concert consisting of a variety of light music such as Broadway, pop and jazz. Berry said that instrumental aspects have been incorporated in recent years, citing a brass accompaniment for the winter concerts and a string ensemble at the spring concerts.
A nonprofit organization, Babylon Chorale relies on fundraising and the contribution of individual donations. Huntington Arts Council has contributed in this regard consistently.
As far as fundraising, holiday concerts feature raffle baskets, and they hold an annual gift card fundraiser in the fall. And last October, the group organized an Applebee’s pancake breakfast.