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Arts & Culture

Dallas Symphony takes over Children's Chorus after the singing group's staff resigns

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In July, the Children's Chorus of Greater Dallas will become part of the DSO, while a splinter group has formed the Greater Dallas Choral Society for Children and Youth

The new Dallas Symphony Children's Choir starts in July. Meanwhile, former staff have formed the Greater Dallas Choral Society.

The Dallas Symphony Orchestra will take over The Children's Chorus of Greater Dallas.

The announcement, made Tuesday, comes after several rancorous months at the 25-year-old children's chorus that saw hiring disputes with the chorus board, staff resignations and confusion from chorus members and their parents.

The chorus will still perform a scheduled concert May 1 at the Meyerson Symphony. In July, the symphony will take over the chorus, which will be renamed The Dallas Symphony Children's Choir. It will perform with the symphony's adult choir beginning this fall.

Meanwhile, staff members who recently left the children's chorus announced last week they were forming a new group: The Greater Dallas Choral Society for Children and Youth.

All of this comes during what should have been a time of celebration for the Children's Chorus: It's marking its 25th anniversary season. Over those years, thousands of Dallas-area children have trained and sung in its ensembles — many going on to run their own.

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Cynthia Nott.

The May 1st concert was originally designed to celebrate the retirement of the chorus' original artistic director, Cynthia Nott. She led the group to acclaim and to performances at Carnegie Hall, St. Peter's in Rome and the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.

Nott announced last year that this would be her final season. On December 31, Kimberley Ahrens, who'd been with the group since 2013, was offered Nott's job.

Soon after that, problems started

In February, after initially accepting the position, Ahrens declined it over questions of paid compensation and the filling of another full-time position. She resigned from the chorus entirely.

That triggered resignations from most of the existing artistic staff — or threats of resignation if Ahrens were not re-instated.

On April 4th, a petition appeared on Change.org, in support of the artistic staff and the 19 people who'd resigned. The petition was created by Catharine Lysinger, a SMU professor of music. It's garnered more than 2,500 signatures.

Ten days later, the chorus board of directors emailed a lengthy open letter to parents explaining this was a confidential personnel matter. But the letter spelled out the board's timeline and a defense of its decisions, including hiring a "third-party conflict resolution team" and why it felt it necessary to end negotiations with Ahrens who, it said, had increased her demands after having been hired.

That same day, Cynthia Nott also emailed parents, declaring her "heart is now broken. " She replied to the board's letter, disputing several of its points about compensation, artistic control and the creation of another full-time position.

The following day, April 15, the Change.org petition was updated to state there had been "a catastrophic breakdown of effective communication" with the board, the director, the staff and the families involved.

Kimberley Ahrens of Children's Chorus of Greater Dallas.jpg
Courtesy: Children's Chorus of Greater Dallas
Kimberley Ahrens had been with the Children's Chorus of Greater Dallas since 2013.

The update concluded "the chorus as we have known it for 25 years is gone."

On April 19, the children's chorus board announced it had engaged Alfred Calabrese, the director of music ministry at St. Rita's Catholic Church, to head the auditions for the May 1st concert at the Meyerson.

CORRECTION: He was engaged to head the auditions for next season.

The next day, a new group was announced by some of the departing staff: the Greater Dallas Choral Society for Children and Youth. It will feature Cynthia Nott "and the music educators you have come to know and love."

Auditions for that chorus will be held in May, rehearsals will begin September 12th.

Dallas Symphony Orchestra Executive Director Kim Noltemy said that the symphony is currently looking for a new director for its adult chorus. No decision has been made yet whether that director, or another new director, will be in charge of the children's choir.

"Will we have multiple directors?" Noltemy said. "We have an assistant for the adult chorus, so we kind of have to look at all of that. But we will be leading the search for that after the Children's Chorus of Greater Dallas concludes."

Nott learned of the DSO's decision Tuesday and said she didn't know for certain whether that change in the administration of the Children's Chorus will have any effect on the brand-new Greater Dallas Choral Society.

Essentially, she said, the split was caused by disputes between the Chorus' board members and its artistic and educational staff. With the board possibly changing because of the DSO's involvement, some of those disputes may be resolved.

But one thing's for certain, Nott said. "These people [in the Choral Society] are committed to the artistic growth of their students. And that won't change. "