Berkshire Lyric: 50 Years of Creating Culture in the Cold Months

Do You Want to Know a Secret?
1963 was Big for the Beatles … and Berkshire Lyric

By Jaclyn Stevenson

The Blafield Children’s Chorus. (Photo credit: Jaclyn Stevenson)

2013 will be a banner year for golden anniversaries. Among many other cultural milestones, the Beatles’ debut album Please Please Me will mark 50 years in existence. Recorded in one session, it seems the album struck a chord; three months after its release, the term ‘Beatlemania’ was coined…and the rest is history.

Also in 1963, Berkshire Lyric – one of the area’s longest running community arts organizations – was beginning its own musical legacy and creating a new resource for music education in western Massachusetts along the way. The multi-generational choral group is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a full season of performances, and will perform a wide array of musical selections by composers such as Handel, Mozart and Stravinsky – as well as Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Starr.

A Berkshire Lyric program from 1969 – then known as the Berkshire Lyric Theatre, the group performed musicals in various venues across the county.

In the last half-century, Berkshire Lyric has evolved from a lyric theater troupe staging musicals – Hansel and Gretel and The Most Happy Fella among them – into a choral performance powerhouse with four separate choruses and singers spanning five generations.

Under the direction of Artistic Director Jack Brown of Stockbridge, who serves as choral director at Simon’s Rock College in Great Barrington, the choruses present complex classical works such as Requiem by contemporary British composer Karl Jenkins and Rachmaninoff’s Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. Music education programs including the Young Singers Competition, the Berkshire Lyric Choral Scholars Program, and the annual Blafield Summer Choral Camps named for Berkshire Lyric’s founder, Robert Blafield.  These programs complement performances throughout the year and are supervised by Brown and Telly award-winning pianist Joe Rose, music director for St. Charles Church in Pittsfield and the choruses’ accompanist.

Berkshire Lyric leaves no genre behind; its repertoire also offers well-timed slices of popular culture each season to lighten the mood. Concerts in the past have offered island-inspired performances and traditional Irish medleys, for instance, and that diverse, all-inclusive approach to music is one thing that has never changed. It grew, Brown says, from a need in the Berkshires to “create culture for the cold months,” and in turn to offer year-round residents opportunities to study or simply enjoy choral music.

Fifty years later, it seems that stalwart Yankee gumption has stayed strong. In the upcoming season, Berkshire Lyric’s ‘Kick the Winter Blues’ concert theme will be a nod to the year it all started with a 1963 Revival. As the Beatles cemented their place in international history, Berkshire Lyric was creating its own legacy in the woods – one that continues to grow.

Berkshire Lyric’s Upcoming Season

The Berkshire Singers, the teenage chorus of Berkshire Lyric, will be featured in a special concert at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield on Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012, at 11am. The chorus is led by Joe Rose and will be performing as part of the museum’s annual Festival of Trees Family Day celebration. Admission is free with a paid admission to the museum.

Deck the Halls, The Christmas Concert takes place on Sunday, Dec. 9, 2012, at 3pm at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in downtown Pittsfield. Featuring the Monument Mountain High School Chorus and the Spartones, both directed by Julie Bickford, and Gaudeamus, a select a cappella chorus of 10 young men from Simon’s Rock College in Great Barrington. Tickets are $20 for adults and free for students and children.

Berkshire Lyric will present Handel’s Messiah as a community sing on Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012, at 3pm at the First United Methodist Church in Pittsfield. The audience is invited to be the chorus and vocal scores will be sold at the door. The concert will be conducted by Jack Brown with accompaniment on the church’s great Austin organ by Joe Rose. A professional string quartet will be augmented by local young string players. Four past winners of Berkshire Lyric’s Young Singers Competition will be the vocal soloists: Felicia Coppola-Pavao, Elaina Pullano, Miles Herr, and Timothy Passetto. Admission is by donation. The free will offering will be sponsored by the Pittsfield Area Council of Congregations, and all proceeds will directly benefit the Pittsfield Area Fuel Assistance Program.

The 50th Anniversary season will culminate in a gala concert at Tanglewood’s Seiji Ozawa Hall on June 9, 2013, with all of the choruses and special appearances by founder Robert Blafield and Berkshire Lyric protégé and world renowned soprano Maureen O’Flynn.

Event and season tickets may be purchased online at

About the Author:

Jaclyn Stevenson

Jaclyn is a freelance writer and photographer and works in the field of public relations for a creative agency in the Berkshires.

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