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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

International Harmony




It started as a lark -- a means of fulfilling a lifelong dream for two amateur musicians. But the Moscow International Choir has since evolved into a local institution for singers from around the world. And this Sunday, the choir will celebrate its seventh year with a spring concert of Bach, Mendelssohn, Mussorgsky, Faure and Rakhmaninov.


The singing group was founded by two Britons - each with a clear-cut goal of what they wanted out of the choir.


"I'd always dreamed of singing the contralto part of Handel's Messiah," said Moscow-based journalist Helen Womack, who had studied voice in Russia for five years before hatching the plot with fellow Briton Andrew Sparke. "And Andrew had always dreamed of conducting the Messiah."


They rounded up amateur singers, imported the music from England, and after a few months of rehearsals Womack and Sparke got to realize their dream before an audience of 400 at Moscow's St. Andrews Anglican Church.


"It was just a lark. A wild idea. But to my amazement it's still going strong," said Womack, who is no longer singing with the group.


She may not have intended for the group to have such staying power, but it continues to be a creative outlet for a lot of Moscow professionals.


"When I first arrived back in 1995 all I was doing was working and going home and working and going home. I wanted to do something outside of work. I saw an ad for the Moscow Oratorio, and I have been involved ever since," said Carolyn Hovorka, an American who works for Ernst & Young.


Hovorka is one of 25 singers who will perform in Sunday's concert, the proceeds of which will be donated to the Uvarovsky home for children with multiple handicaps, about 100 kilometers outside of Moscow. The group picks a new charity each season, and previous donations have been made to the Center for Humanitarian Aid and Action for Russia's Children, to name a few.


While the original choir was mostly made up of Americans and Britons, in recent years it has taken on a more international flavor.


"We have choir members from all over the world," said Hovorka, adding that about half of the singers are Russian.


Until this spring, the group was called the Moscow Oratorio, but a group of singers split off from the Oratorio in March in order to create their own group.


The Oratorio remains in existence for those who have more serious musical aspirations, but the choir maintains a looser, open door policy for anyone who wants to sing.


"It's very important for some people to have some kind of musical outlet," said Jerroleen Sorensen, who just started directing the choir in March. "My life revolves around music, and if people want to sing, I'm happy to sing with them.


Sorensen, who came to Moscow last year with her husband, an American diplomat, has been involved in church, children's and community choirs for years, from California to Kampala.


"I started directing music at the age of 6. My mother directed a church choir, and she taught me," said Sorensen. "I came here with the idea of starting a small choir, but I got involved with this group instead, and this is as good a choir as I have ever directed."


While Sorensen says many of the singers have some kind of musical background, it is not mandatory to sing with the group.


"This season we had one Russian man join us who could barely read music," Sorensen said. "I've seen him progress a lot. It's wonderful to see people improve and feel better about themselves."


Right now the choir has only 25 members, but Sorensen says there is room for as many as 80 voices. She hopes to attract a bigger crowd next fall when rehearsals kick in for the Christmas season concert. Already included on the program is a spoof of the traditional "Twelve Days of Christmas," which is to be sung in different styles - from a Gregorian chant to a military march.


"What we hope is that we'll get a lot more people singing with us. We want people to enjoy themselves, to just relax and have a break from everyday life in Moscow," said Sorensen. "As time goes on and people realize how much fun we're having, we'll get more people to come."


The Moscow International Choir's spring concert will take place at 7 p.m. on Sunday at Dom Shuvalova's Gostiny Hall, 30/1 Ulitsa Povarskaya. Tickets cost $3 and $5. For more information on the concert and singing in the choir, contact Carolyn_Hovorka@hotmail.com