This Sunday, the 60-voice Summer Singers of Lee’s Summit will fill the historic sanctuary of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church with classic choral music by Antonio Vivaldi and George Frideric Handel.
The summer-only community chorus of members who range in age from 14 to 84 performs with top soloists and professional orchestras from around the region. The group’s rehearsals begin in June and culminate in a single mid-summer performance of renowned choral masterworks.
“I’m often asked what makes this music great and what makes it a masterpiece,” said William Baker, founder and musical director of Summer Singers and of Kansas City’s celebrated Festival Singers. “You can listen to one of these masterworks every single day and hear a new wonder every time you listen. That’s what makes this music truly great.”
Launched in 2014, Summer Singers of Lee’s Summit is the fifth Summer Singers group Baker has started in the Kansas City area since 1998. Baker inadvertently formed the original Summer Singers chorus in Atlanta in 1990.
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“The first Summer Singers happened by accident,” Baker said. “A group of friends were lamenting that the singing season was ending and wanted to get together for the summer. I decided to put an ad in the newspaper to see if others wanted to join, and 100 people showed up to audition. Our little experiment became an institution.”
Summer Singers provides an opportunity for singers of all experience levels to perform with some of the best soloists and orchestra musicians in the region, Baker says. The Lee’s Summit group includes both professional singers and those who are performing this music for the first time in their lives.
“The choral director, Robert Shaw, called this kind of group a ‘melting pot that sings,’ ” Baker said.
For this Sunday’s performance, the orchestra will include musicians primarily from the Kansas City Symphony. Soloists are all members of the Festival Singers.
Jocelyn Botkin, a member of the Festival Singers, is one of Sunday’s performers.
She joined both the Festival Singers and Summer Singers of Kansas City in 2004. She became a member of Summer Singers of Lee’s Summit when it was formed.
Botkin, whose mother was a voice teacher and professional singer, started singing when she was a small child. After 25 years away, Botkin returned to Lee’s Summit a number of years ago to care for her mother.
“Mother and I started singing with the Summer Singers when I moved back, and she and I sang duets until her 95th birthday,” Botkin said.
“I’m a singer and I love to sing. I look for all the opportunities to sing that come my way. Singing is my soul’s calling, and I sing for what it brings to others. People are transformed through music.”
For members of the Summer Singers, the benefits of participation extend beyond the joy of singing.
“Summer Singers gives us an opportunity to sing beautiful masterworks, and it’s also the perfect opportunity to keep our voices in shape,” Botkin said. “Bill is a wonderful conductor, dedicated to the music, and a great teacher. One of his pillars is to instruct us in healthy singing practices.”
This focus on instruction reflects Baker’s long-term advocacy and commitment to healthy singing practices.
The Institute for Healthy Singing is a key group within the William Baker Choral Foundation. Founded in 1990, the foundation is the overarching organization for all of Baker’s choral groups.
The institute includes an experienced staff of nearly a dozen vocal specialists who work with singers and directors from all of the organization’s choruses. The specialists use a science-based approach to singing and teach vocalists how to properly protect and use the voice to maintain longevity, strength and health.
“We’re an advocate for healthy singing for all ages,” Baker said. “We help people make better choices when they sing, regardless of age, so they can use their voices longer and more effectively.”
From education to performance, Baker has lived a life filled with passion for choral music and bringing masterpieces of this genre to new and existing audiences.
“I get to do what I feel I was created to do,” Baker said. “Music gives voice to the depth of human hope, need and promise. It calls us to a higher sense of community and truth.”
“Shaw, my mentor, said, ‘If we believe there is a loving Creator, then when we sing, we are continuing his work of loving and creating.’ Great music calls us to higher things.”
Summer Singers of Lee’s Summit will perform its annual summer concert at 3 p.m. Sunday, July 29, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 416 S.E. Grand Ave., Lee’s Summit.
The program includes Antonio Vivaldi’s “Beatus Vir” and “Gloria,” along with several choruses from Handel’s “Messiah.”
William Baker and the group’s associate director, Jennifer Berroth, will conduct the performance, which will include professional orchestra and soloists Amy Imparato, Christine Freeman, Melissa Overton, Jamea Sale, Erica Seago and Amanda Kimbrough.
Tickets are $5-$50 and are available at festivalsingers.org/concerts.