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Meet a few of our members

Grace Baumgarten (Soprano)

I started singing as a very young girl. My mother was a lyricist and wrote many, many songs without knowing how to read or write music. She did create many melodies, and my mom’s friend who was a musician, would help transpose the music to paper so my mom could copyright them all. They did collaborate on songs too. I started playing piano at 6 so that I could learn music to help her with that as well. She had a really nice voice and would teach me her songs and expected me to perform them to her friends. I didn’t like this very much. My first 9 years of life we lived in the Bronx. I joined the Glee Club in 2nd grade and we had some fun concerts and shows. In Spring Valley, NY where I grew up, I sang in every choir and small group there was; graduation choirs, and I was part of the Mixed Ensemble, a small performing group that sang locally, as well as regular choir, Musicals and our Senior Talent Show, etc. I sang every year in college choirs, and Holiday Sing (which we won!), and my college boyfriend and I sang at the big fundraiser, Telethon, which was broadcast on radio. In 1980, I sang as a member of the ProArte Festival Chorus, based in Ridgewood with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra conducted by Thomas Michalak, at The War Memorial Auditorium , Newark Symphony Hall, and the Orrin de Nooyer Auditorium in Hackensack; the tour ending at Carnegie Hall with the Indianapolis Symphony performing Mahler’s 2nd symphony with John Nelson conducting. I thought I died and went to heaven. My mom and my grandmother were in the audience! At Bergen Pines County Hospital from 1978-86, I was one of the resident singers, accompanied by guitar, piano or organ, and participated in all the holiday gatherings, memorials, and at weddings.. In 1997 after a lull for a few years during post grad training, and having kids, my family joined Temple Ner Tamid when my 5 year old began Hebrew School. I was part of a group called Cantor’s Follies that performed a variety of music, both secular and non-secular. When our Cantor left, 4 of us, (Jean Siegel, Marsha Schreier, and Pat Genser) became “Musical Cheers” and we were together until 2006. We sang all over Essex and Bergen at nursing homes, Hadassah groups, other Temples, community celebrations, and performed some of Pat Genser’s music, most memorably a 9/11 commemoration with the Glen Ridge Congregational group. We even sang Du Wop at Verona High School’s Talent show, where Marsha was the musical director for many years. Pat and Jean sang at OSNJ and finally convinced me to join in 2007; and it’s been a wonderful experience!! One of the highlights of course, was joining with choirs from California, NY, Sweden and NJ in June 2010 to perform Brahm’s Requiem at Carnegie Hall. We had a blast, eating at the Jewish deli and hanging out, rehearsing all day and bonding.

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Grace Baumgarten (Soprano)

I started singing as a very young girl. My mother was a lyricist and wrote many, many songs without knowing how to read or write music. She did create many melodies, and my mom’s friend who was a musician, would help transpose the music to paper so my mom could copyright them all. They did collaborate on songs too. I started playing piano at 6 so that I could learn music to help her with that as well. She had a really nice voice and would teach me her songs and expected me to perform them to her friends. I didn’t like this very much.

My first 9 years of life we lived in the Bronx. I joined the Glee Club in 2nd grade and we had some fun concerts and shows. In Spring Valley, NY where I grew up, I sang in every choir and small group there was; graduation choirs, and I was part of the Mixed Ensemble, a small performing group that sang locally, as well as regular choir, Musicals and our Senior Talent Show, etc. I sang every year in college choirs, and Holiday Sing (which we won!), and my college boyfriend and I sang at the big fundraiser, Telethon, which was broadcast on radio.

 In 1980, I sang as a member of the ProArte Festival Chorus, based in Ridgewood with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra conducted by Thomas Michalak, at The War Memorial Auditorium , Newark Symphony Hall, and the Orrin de Nooyer Auditorium in Hackensack; the tour ending at Carnegie Hall with the Indianapolis Symphony performing Mahler’s 2nd symphony with John Nelson conducting. I thought I died and went to heaven. My mom and my grandmother were in the audience!

At Bergen Pines County Hospital from 1978-86, I was one of the resident singers, accompanied by guitar, piano or organ, and participated in all the holiday gatherings, memorials, and at weddings..

In 1997 after a lull for a few years during post grad training, and having kids, my family joined Temple Ner Tamid when my 5 year old began Hebrew School. I was part of a group called Cantor’s Follies that performed a variety of music, both secular and non-secular. When our Cantor left, 4 of us, (Jean Siegel, Marsha Schreier, and Pat Genser) became “Musical Cheers” and we were together until 2006. We sang all over Essex and Bergen at nursing homes, Hadassah groups, other Temples, community celebrations, and performed some of Pat Genser’s music, most memorably a 9/11 commemoration with the Glen Ridge Congregational group. We even sang Du Wop at Verona High School’s Talent show, where Marsha was the musical director for many years.

Pat and Jean sang at OSNJ and finally convinced me to join in 2007; and it’s been a wonderful experience!! One of the highlights of course, was joining with choirs from California, NY, Sweden and NJ in June 2010 to perform Brahm’s Requiem at Carnegie Hall. We had a blast, eating at the Jewish deli and hanging out, rehearsing all day and bonding.

Peter Braley (Bass)

Hello. My name is Peter and I’m a compulsive musician.

We sang at home. We sang in the car on vacation trips. I sang in each of the age appropriate choirs in church. Took up the trumpet in the 4th grade and went on the play in the concert band, marching band, dance band and orchestra in HS. Sang in the Mixed chorus, the Interpreters, the Madrigals and the Boys chorus. The only musical group I wasn’t in in HS was the Girls Chorus. Taught myself the recorders and guitar in Middle school. And participated in school plays either on stage or in the pit.

And then came college. Nothing but my guitar and recorders.

After college, marriage and we joined the County Choral Society in Rockland county which was very similar in size and aptitude to OSNJ. After several enjoyable years, life got complicated. Marriage ended, guitar broke, singing stopped and it was just work and kids.

Thanks to Helen Paxton, I met my new wife and after some years, I was convinced to buy the guitar I’d always dreamed about and that started my music mojo back up. I then joined a recorder group and when that fizzled and after some prodding from Helen again, I joined OSNJ (2017 I think). I once again found the joys of choral singing and always appreciated the welcome feeling in the group and admired the ability of our director to get us across the finish line (or double bars) every season.

Messiah story.

Sally and I were joining some friends in Ireland in 2012 and playing tour guide for them. We got there a day earlier than they did and were simply wandering around Dublin on this April day when we stumbled upon a stage set up on a small road with a packed area around it and the Lord Mayor of Dublin in his finery making his thoughts known. We had found, on the 270th anniversary of the first performance of his Messiah, a lovely recreation, albeit outdoors, near the house where Handel lived. The link is a short clip posted by the Irish Times and the picture is from my camera. Sally and I are somewhere in that crowd.

https://youtu.be/KY2qjpYJ_8Y

Robyn Burns (Alto)

From my early school days growing up, I’ve enjoyed singing and learning music in Sunday school, Bible school, grammar school, at summer camp, and later in high school and college.

 

When I was in college, our chorus traveled to England on a summer tour singing in the cathedrals. After college, I’ve enjoyed two summer sessions of choral singing with the
Berkshire Choral Festivals.

 

Over the years I’ve participated with other local choirs, the Essex Chorale, the Glen Ridge Choral Society and the Upper Montclair Women’s Club Choir in addition to the Senior Choir at church.

 

I love the hymns of the church and have a continuing goal as an alto choir member to harmonize better with other vocal parts. I took piano lessons as a child, so I like to practice preparing my part on the piano and keyboard.

 

At a recent college reunion, two former chorus members and I reminisced about our choir experiences. Like me, they also have continued singing with other choirs, and were grateful to
have this life-long connection with music. I appreciate the uplifting, interactive relationships formed with other choristers, orchestra members, with our directors, and with our audiences.

 

The creation of beautiful music is an inspiration shared by all.

Bette Chamberlin (Alto)

Here's my story:

Our dear Jean Siegel- now our secretary and master musical score note-taker - visited me over 10 years ago for some Alexander Technique lessons.  I soon learned that she was a soprano with OSNJ and she asked, if I sang, maybe I would want to join the choir.  The last time I sang in a choir was in high school, so I thought I would be basically starting over.  But being a dancer, along with my mother being my piano teacher, my love for music was strong so I joined and jumped into the "Brahms Requiem".  I was not prepared for the challenge it presented what with the length of the piece and that it was in German.  (Thank you, Sibylle!)

 

It was a struggle and I almost dropped out, but I remembered Jean telling me that you never think you'll learn it but you do!!.

 

😏

Patricia Fullilove (Soprano)

Music has always been a huge part of my life. I began taking piano lessons when I was quite young. As a small girl I also sang in the children's choir of my church, and later the youth choir. When I entered junior high school I was the pianist in our school band, I sang in the chorus, and also served as one of the accompanists for the chorus.


I was then accepted into #NewarkArtsHighSchool as a music major, which was such a wonderful experience. The music that we were introduced to has stayed with me all of these years later. While at Arts High I was a member of the mixed chorus, the opera chorus, and a member of Newark's All-City Chorus. I was also a member of the band, playing the glockenspiel - oh, the joy of marching in parades!!


Almost two decades later I was invited to join the Essex Chorale which was based in East Orange. The Chorale was comprised of singers from communities in central and northern New Jersey. (I did not realize how much I'd missed singing until that first rehearsal.) I had the joy of singing with the Chorale for about 20 years. During the concert season the Chorale had three major performances - the complete Handel's Messiah with soloists and orchestra, a concert of Negro Spirituals commemorating Black History Month, and a performance of an oratorio or mass during Lent. Some of the works performed by the Chorale were Mozart's Requiem; Bach's Mass in B Minor and The Passion According to St. John; and Berlioz's Te Deum.


In the mid-1980's, I joined the Friends of the #NewarkSchooloftheArts (NSA), of which I am still a member today. The purpose of this organization is to support and promote the activities and programs of the Newark School of the Arts through fundraising, public relations, and contributions. I have also had the honor of serving on the board of trustees of NSA. It is certainly rewarding to see so many young people, as well as adults, who find joy in the arts, and many of whom are now professional artists.


In the early 2000's, the director of the Essex Chorale retired and sadly, the Chorale disbanded. However, Donald Moore, who at the time was president of the Oratorio Society of New Jersey, invited the Chorale members to join OSNJ. That was the year that the Oratorio Society was singing Mendelssohn's Elijah, and Mr. Moore had recently attended an Essex Chorale concert when Elijah was performed. And today several of us are truly blessed to be able to sing with such a wonderful group, and with an outstanding director, Sandor Szabo, who has made this music of the old masters come alive again.

Norma Messing (Alto)

The only time I sang in my youth was when I was 12 and played Anna in "The King and I" at camp. My soliloquy brought down the house so I rested on my laurel for 20 years. 

Then when our children were young several women and I formed a chorus-ette, sight-reading lots of English ditties under an associate conductor from Masterwork Chorus. We eventually joined several of his “real” choirs to sing Treemonisha and Amy Beach’s Mass at Carnegie Hall (obviously not on the same bill).

 

Fast forward to 2010. My daughter invited me to join her alumni chorus going to Cuba and who says no to that?  (This “summer chorus” tours internationally and I’ve been a part of it ever since.) While swimming in the Atlantic outside of Havana a soprano swam over and invited me to join her NY chorus.  (Note to OSNJ: maybe consider upping your recruiting tactics?) I did the “but I don’t audition” routine and she countered with “but we don’t require it.”  Nice group, interesting music, but trekking into the city became wearying after a few years.

 

At which point, on one of the next university junkets I met Izumi Hara who introduced me to OSNJ. Answer to my dreams. Serious singers, challenging music, wonderful conductor, and less that an hour and a half from home. I persuaded my yoga instructor to accompany me to rehearse Elijah in the fall of 2013  but she didn’t last.  “I want to learn the musical notes, not 'change the last quarter to an eighth and an eighth rest.”

Her loss.

Scott Miller (Tenor)

My vocal history is relatively short - after leaving my then-church's boy choir at age 13, I didn't sing regularly again (took sporadic turns in my 30's as a fill-in bass in a church choir) until I joined my then-church's choir in 1995. The music director was a long-time friend of mine and he suggested I would make a good tenor ... mostly, I suppose, because he already had five basses and only one tenor. 😊 Eight frustrating years later (I thought I sounded rather dismal), I enrolled in a Montclair Adult School course entitled "The Joy of Singing." Long story short, the teacher of the course also taught private and group lessons so I built her a website in return for a year's free group lessons. She taught me how to sing for real and encouraged me to pursue an operatic repertoire. I joined the chorus of the Opera Theatre of Montclair for their first two full-scale productions, Nabucco (2013) and The Abduction from the Seraglio (2014) as well as a Baroque Orchestra of NJ semi-staged 2014 production of Handel's Acis and Galatea. The erratic nature of the opera rehearsal schedules combined with increasing demands at work eliminated that as a continuing activity, but maybe I'll find something similar once I retire in 12-24 months.

At the beginning of October, 2012, I was singing with a group called the Mel-O-Chords, an offshoot of the Montclair Operetta Club. At the same time, Miles Tepper (then OSNJ president) contacted the president of the M-O-C about whether they had any tenors available to "lend" to OSNJ. She told me about it, I looked you folks up online and I was immediately hooked - this was the kind of music I'd been looking for the opportunity to sing. I joined my first rehearsal at Cedar Grove High School and found myself only one of two tenors - Ray Raymer was the other. After my second rehearsal I quit the Mel-O-Chords knowing that I'd found a new home and a lot of new friends.

My first concert (Fall 2012 - Opera Choruses and medleys from Showboat and Porgy and Bess) was notable because the tenor soloist got sick the week of dress rehearsal and I ended up singing his solo (a spiritual, nothing too difficult) and following up as the tenor soloist at that December's Messiah Sing. (Note - Sandor's never asked me again, a telling commentary on my performance. 😄) I've been with OSNJ ever since - so I'm entering my 10th year with the group.

Helen Paxton (Alto)

I joined OSNJ exactly ten years ago, and the experience in Fall 2011  -- after decades of not participating in choral singing -- of learning and performing Handel's Judas Maccabeus (for those who may not know, the second most popular of his oratorios next to Messiah, back in Handel's day) was extraordinarily wonderful, and I've loved singing with OSNJ ever since.  I am thankful to Sandor and every board member especially for keeping us going through the pandemic hard times.

I stopped choir singing after my freshman year of college as I truly disliked the choir director almost as much as I disliked Bruckner's Te Deum. Then I spent years channeling my love of choral singing via my daughter who was a member of the NJ Children's Choir a wonderful group now I think disbanded. At age 60 I decided that it was time for me to get back to something I loved, and I was drawn to OSNJ because it was nearby and I loved the repertoire -- and so great not to have to audition! I remember contacting Stuart who was then handling membership and telling him  that I was apprehensive about being one of possibly the group's oldest choir members? He laughed and assured me it would not be a problem!  It has been a wonderful experience these past ten years.

Cia Siebert (Soprano)

OK - here goes. I've sung all my life. As a young child I modeled and sang in the old Bamberger's (now Macy's) fashion shows. "Me and My Teddy Bear" was a favorite.  I was fortunate that my  mother was a coloratura who always encouraged me to sing, and would frequently sing with me ,thus giving me a pretty wide classical education. (Rock 'n Roll was not allowed in my home until I was a teenager.). I credit her for teaching me to sing harmony by taking my fingers out of my ears where I could only hear my part, and then singing her part directly into my tympanic membrane. I learned pretty quickly that way.

I always was chosen for the special school musical groups including the beloved Madrigals in high school  After high school, I won a vocal scholarship to the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in NYC, a school started by Sir Phillip Burton, Richard's stepdad.(My dad was thrilled - he didn't have to pay tuition!!!) I auditioned and won the coveted solo in our graduation showcase. I also took part in my town's amateur musical productions usually singing the lead role. I sang at various clubs around town, and,soloed at weddings, and other churches when asked. . And then less than three months after I graduated from AMDA,, I met my husband and my life took a major detour from music.  After about fifteen years of no singing, I really felt the need to sing again, and I believe Bob Hodgson and his then wife, Robin, who introduced me to the OSNJ when Charles Hunter was the conductor. I sang with the group for about 12 years during which time David Messineo, then the OSNJ organist and also Minister of Music at Glen Ridge Congregational Church,  asked me to join his choir. I sang with them and the adjunct Choral Society as well for a number of years. I left GRCC when David left, and I also stopped singing again around 1998..

I don't remember exactly when I rejoined OSNJ - somewhere around 2010 or so maybe.  I just know the urge to sing again was too strong to be ignored.. I also rejoined the Glen Ridge Choral Society a few years ago. That pretty much brings me to the present  I have found, as I have always known, that music needs to be a part of my life, and that singing helps keep me relatively sane...but then I guess that depends on whom you ask.

Jean Siegel (Soprano)

 I began piano lessons when I was 6 years old because I was jealous of my older sister taking lessons. I have ALWAYS loved singing since early childhood.

      When I was 10 years old, my parents sent me to a very immersive Conservative Jewish summer camp named Camp Ramah. After my fourth summer there, one day I asked my mother if she wanted to take a bath. She said "It's the middle of Friday afternoon. Why would I want to take a bath?"

     "We have to get ready for Shabbat!" (Sabbath), I answered.

       My mother & father had a conversation later that day and said, "I wanted her to know this stuff, but what have we created?" For the next five summers, they sent me to National Music Camp, Interlochen, Michigan. In fact, my last summer there, I was in the University Division which was the summer music school of the University of Michigan.

      For the 1st 4 summers there, I was in a choir that had 5 one-hour rehearsals and then we sang a concert every Sunday. I remember learning "Rejoice In The Lamb" in less than a week. You can just imagine the repertoire I was exposed. I also remember singing 5 Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, including "Trial by Jury", while there.

     In high school, I was in the North Jersey Regional Chorus, NJ All-State Chorus and All Eastern United States Chorus, composed of 10 voices from each state on the East Coast to sing a concert in Washington, D.C.  

    I was one of the founding members of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra Chorus when I lived in Dallas..

       I returned to New Jersey, in 1982 and I sang with the New Jersey State Opera chorus and Montclair Operetta Club Mel-o-Chords. 

        I became a member of the ProArte Chorale and I was one of 60 people chosen to sing the Bach B-Minor Mass at the Madeira Bach Festival.That performance was the closest thing that I imagine a Zen experience must feel like.

      I also sang with the Berkshire Choral Festival  4 times as well as participated in four 1-week workshops with Western Wind, an a cappella sextet. (Peter even participated in the beginner's group one summer. What an education that was for him!)

      As an adult, I have always sung in temple choirs wherever I've lived, NJ, Ohio or Texas. In fact, Sandor became the organist at Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield.

      I met Grace at Temple Ner Tamid where we both belonged to a group called "Cantor's Follies" where we sang popular music by Jewish composers. Our cantor also directed an all-temple production of "Joseph and the Amazing Colored Dream Coat. (Can you imagine me climbing a ladder,. pre-MS, peaking over the ark, singing the soprano descant in "One More Angel In Heaven"?)

       When Cantor's Follies disbanded, four of us from the group formed a quartet called "Musical Cheers" where we advertised ourselves as singing "From Bach to Broadway" (See Grace's bio).

       Recently,:before Covid, in addition to OSNJ, I was a member of the Glen Ridge Community Choir and was an additional voice when the Cathedral Choir in Newark sang with the NJ Symphony.

John Willard (Tenor)

I’ve been listening to a recording of the Mozart arrangement of Messiah by the Oratorio Society of NY that I participated in back in the previous century (in 1989). We recorded it in Warsaw, Poland, with an orchestra called Sinfonia Rubinstein, just before the Iron Curtain collapsed. It was a fascinating experience. As I’m listening, I think the choir did a very respectable job. The soloists are a bit uneven.

I started singing the oratorio repertory in my senior year of high school in 1972, with the Poulenc “Gloria” (with my high school choir) and the Brahms “Requiem” (with Choral Art Society of NJ) and continued for a good part of my adult life. Then I had a substantial hiatus (10 years?) before joining OSNJ in 2015, shortly after getting laid off. It has been a joy to incorporate choral music back into my life these past six years and to sing with you all. The experience of working together to share moving music with an audience is priceless. It is truly something to be thankful for.

I’ve had some really wonderful choral experiences over the years. Sang in Carnegie Hall many times with both the Rutgers University Choir and the Oratorio Society of NY. Traveled to Romania with my high school choir. Sang with OSNY for the Macy’s Fireworks program one July 4th. So glad that I found OSNJ right in my own backyard so that I could get choral music back into my life.

I sang in the choir at UVA and when I graduated, I went directly to the graduate English program at Rutgers. In September 1975, when I got on campus, one of the first things I did was audition for the Rutgers choir. I think because tenors are always in short supply, I got in.

 

I soon learned that there was a Rutgers grad in the programming office at Carnegie Hall, which, at the time, meant that when out-of-town orchestras came to Carnegie, and they needed a choir, the Rutgers choir might get the gig. (Eventually, the musicians’ union put the kibosh on that practice.) It turns out Michael Tilson Thomas was bringing the Buffalo Philharmonic to Carnegie in October to perform Ives’s “Symphony #4,” which includes a chorus, and the Rutgers choir got to be that chorus. I can still remember just how dazzled I was by the whole experience.

 

When I went to grad school, I just wanted to keep singing choral music, because it had become an essential part of my life then. I had no idea that it would lead to performing at Carnegie Hall. I still can’t believe how fortunate I was to have that experience.

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