Berkshire Choral International


Recap: Our Final Two Weeks in Sheffield

August 7, 2017

Fellowship. Passion. Brigadoon.

For 35 years, choristers from around the globe have walked the halls of the Berkshire School in Sheffield, Massachusetts to participate in a week of choral immersion at our founding location. This year’s 2017 Sheffield weeks were no different.

Choristers poured into Sheffield on July 9 and 16 to start their weeklong choral adventures! Those in attendance practiced musical artistry, met new friends and reconnected with old ones, and took in the sights of the picturesque Berkshires.

While some marveled at the Berkshire’s verdant scenery, others, like 16-year BCI-goer Joseph Fasel, came to perfect Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 8. “My wife and I decided to do this [first] week because Mahler’s eighth symphony is a once in a lifetime opportunity. It’s very difficult to get the forces necessary to do it together and it’s something we had to do.” 

With 300 singers, 100 orchestra members, a children’s choir and eight soloists, BCI performed Mahler’s Symphony No. 8, best known as the “Symphony of a Thousand,” in splendid style.

The second largest chorus in BCI history performing Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 8

“It’s a wonderful uplifting spiritual moment. It’s about all of us and our souls rising up at the very end. It’s unbelievably moving,” said Frank Nemhauser, BCI’s Music Director. 

Conductor Kent Tritle and the Springfield Symphony Orchestra completed Mahler’s eighth symphony and helped it come alive, bringing members of the audience and choristers alike to tears.

“Kent Tritle is a fabulous conductor and musician and a wonderful, warm, and supportive person. I’ve loved [learning from him] this week,” said Fasel.

Outside of the intensive rehearsals and classes BCI offers alongside our faculty, conductors and apprentices, choristers also visited the Norman Rockwell Museum to perform Take Five, The Wayfaring Stranger, and Another Day of Sun.

Choristers ended the Mahler week in celebration and cheer after such a big undertaking. Steve Dalton, 3-year BCI Chorister, said it had been an exhilarating experience. “There’s really nothing else like this anywhere where amateur trained singers can join together in a short span of time and create glorious musical art,” said Dalton.

Choristers who performed in the Mahler week held the record of being the biggest chorus in our history. For a week.

On July 16, 314 choristers arrived in Sheffield ready to make history as our biggest chorus and final performers at the Sheffield campus. Fittingly, choristers performed the Verdi Requiem conducted by Tom Hall - the first musical composition ever performed by BCI 35 years ago.

For first-time participant and social media contest winner Megan Brown Helm, BCI exceeded all of her expectations.

Megan Brown Helm (pictured in red) socializing with newfound friends at the BCI Verdi week

“This is the best organized festival I’ve ever been to. Every detail seems to have been thought through. There were special touches that I appreciate. Everything is a well-oiled machine, that’s for sure.”

Although Helm is a regular chorus singer, BCI offered her the chance of a lifetime.

"There’s nothing better than singing a really big master work that I don’t have the opportunity to do in the small village where I live, so getting to be on stage with 300 people was very exciting,” Helm said.

Megan was exhilarated by the week and found the Verdi Requiem to challenge her as a vocalist and chorister.  

“[Verdi] is an extremely difficult piece for a chorus…it’s very loud and it’s very quiet, so it really tests your vocal ability and there’s so much artistry in every measure. It’s been great getting to sing with these excellent voices who have prepared the music… to create a really high quality product at the end.”

During both the Mahler and Verdi Sheffield weeks, we were overjoyed to see so many familiar and new faces on campus. And while we were all sad to see the Sheffield weeks come to a close, we are extremely grateful for all the participants who have made Sheffield home in the past 35 years and we look forward to a bright future for BCI as we bring music, passion and people together.

“Singing is the most life affirming thing you can do. It’s the best countervailing force to all the madness that goes on in the world. When people sing together, they have to breathe together. When they breathe together, we create our own little [BCI] world and it’s very lovely.” – Ann Kirschner, BCI Participant since 1991.

BCI in One Word:

August 3, 2017

 “Community,” “joyous,” “adventure,” “Brigadoon,” … these are just a few of the ways our choristers describe the BCI experience. Watch the video to hear more from our singers on what BCI means to them. 

Recap: BCI’s Week in Asheville, North Carolina

June 19, 2017

Cynthia Crose wasn’t even finished with her first week at BCI before she signed up for another session next summer.

Our 2017 season kicked off in Asheville, North Carolina last week, with choristers from across the country joining us for vocal instruction, sightseeing, and connecting with new and old friends alike. For Crose, a first-timer, it was eye-opening.

“When I came home, I described the experience to my friends as an amazing whole week voice lesson,” said the Oregon native.

We welcomed many first-timers as well as seasoned BCI performers to this charming southern city. Cathie Runyon and Muriel Henault attended this year with two other friends from Peterborough, NH. The group of four enjoys BCI sessions together year after year, with many of them having attended for more than 15 years. The women sing together in their local choir and come to BCI to perfect their art at sessions across the world.

From left: Cheri Fry, Muriel Henault, Joyce Gregg, and Cathie Runyon enjoying lunch during a 2014 BCI session in Winter Park, FL 


“I learn more in a week at BCI than I learn in a year at most of my choral rehearsals,” said Runyon, a 19-year BCI attendee. “From warmups, to techniques, to perfecting my notes; I take in all the knowledge the staff can impart.”

Conducting apprentice Suzanna Matthews practicing her skills with the full BCI chorus


BCI faculty, instructors, and apprentices shared that knowledge during over 28 hours of rehearsals and classes, while staying on the campus of the University of North Carolina Asheville just minutes from downtown. Our staff of career singers and musicians not only imparted their wisdom, they performed for choristers during the Faculty/Apprentice Recital.

BCI staff performing for choristers during the Faculty/Apprentice Recital in Asheville


“Every year the staff and the apprentices perform for us. It is just delightful, and is one of the highlights of my week,” said Henault, a 9-year BCI attendee.

While we certainly keep our choristers busy with rehearsals and workshops, we also make sure there is time to explore the local arts scene, mountain views, cuisine, and charm of Asheville, North Carolina.

“They allow free time in the afternoon to enjoy the venue as well as participating in the experience. Asheville was wonderful and we did some sightseeing, some shopping and even some hiking,” said Crose.

The choir closed out the week singing Mozart’s Great Mass in C Minor and opera choruses in the regal First Baptist Church of Asheville with the accompaniment of the Asheville Symphony Orchestra. Designed by architect Douglas D. Ellington, the church was completed in 1927 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The First Baptist Church of Asheville before the final concert


“Singing in the First Baptist Church was a wonderful experience. The music just comes alive there,” said Henault.

The music came alive with the instruction of Erin Freeman, director of the Richmond Symphony Chorus and artistic director of Wintergreen Performing Arts. Freeman brought choristers together and conducted the choir to a standing ovation and three curtain calls.

“Working with Erin is a highlight for anybody. She has the ability to bring out the best in the chorus. Erin makes us realize that perfection is not the goal, the goal is to make beautiful music to spread to the world and that’s what we did,” said Runyon.

While we were all sad to see the week end, we are grateful for the experience and to all who attended. We shared a passion for music with a wonderful group of choristers who are now part of the BCI family, and who we hope to see again next year!

“Berkshire Choral is like a home. It’s a family to us,” said Runyon. 

How to Manage Your Voice This Summer

May 11, 2017

The harsh winter is over but that doesn’t mean our vocal chords are any less susceptible to disaster as the weather heats up and summer comes a knocking. We know it can be difficult to focus on vocal health amidst all the summer fun, so we’ve made it easy for you with a quick list of “Do’s and Don’ts” to ensure you can hit those high notes this spring and summer.

Do stay hydrated. Though the air isn’t as dry in the summer, the heat can still cause dehydration and a loss of fluids, especially with an increase of physical activity. Make sure to replenish your body’s water supply and keep your vocal chords hydrated by drinking lots of water. The recommended amount is about 6-8 glasses of water per day- more if your day is packed with physical activity.

Don’t drink a lot of caffeine and alcohol. Both alcohol and caffeine dehydrate your body and dry out your vocal folds and larynx. Additionally, alcohol irritates the mucous membrane lining your throat. So if you’re having a rough morning, opt for an herbal tea or decaffeinated coffee, and if you’re having a night out – well, just don’t overdo it.

Do maintain a healthy diet. Eating lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains not only makes you feel good and nourishes your body, but these types of healthy foods contain important nutrients such as vitamins A, E and C which help maintain the mucous membrane in your throat. Healthy food means healthy vocal chords!

Don’t eat spicy foods. We know the spicy barbeque sauce and buffalo chicken can be tempting, but spicy foods can cause heartburn by causing stomach acid to travel up into the throat and esophagus. Stomach acid can irritate and damage the tissue in your throat, which can take a toll on your singing. Opt for lighter food options with less sauce; your voice will thank you later.

Do avoid smoke. This includes both smoking cigarettes and breathing in smoke from grills and bonfires. Smoke can cause coughing, wheezing and mucous buildup which irritates the vocal chords; not to mention, the act of smoking is the biggest cause of cancer of the vocal folds. When it comes to smoke, try to sit upwind of the fire or grill.

Don’t strain your voice. With summer comes loud events and activities including graduations, weddings, concerts and amusement parks. As tempting as it is, try not to yell and strain your voice too much, or you’ll wake up with a sore throat and a raspy voice. Screaming and yelling causes your vocal chords to repeatedly slam together at high speeds which, as you can imagine, is pretty damaging to vocal health. If you do strain yourself, make sure to rest your voice for a few days until it heals completely.

Managing your voice in the summer may seem tedious, but such care goes a long way in maintaining the overall health of not only your voice, but your body as well. If you still want a dose of concerts this summer, join us at one of our beautiful locations! Visit here for more information.

Come to BCI and Sing Away the Stress

March 9, 2017

The American Psychological Association found 57% of Americans say they are experiencing “significant stress” in their daily lives because of the current state of the world. When more than half the country is stressed to the max that’s not healthy, and it means people are desperately looking for a healthy outlet to recharge, recoup and recover.

One of the most underrated aspects of a week at Berkshire Choral International, an education nonprofit devoted to giving accomplished amateur singers a chance to perform with renowned conductors and symphonies, is the gift of focusing on music in a stress-free environment. Think about it – when was the last time you spent a solid week focused exclusively on something you truly enjoy without any interruptions? You probably can’t remember because your cell phone just went off with a reminder about the meeting you have tonight and you still haven’t been to the grocery store and you forgot to pick up the dry cleaning and…

You get the point. But once you arrive at BCI, you have one week of uninterrupted choral bliss. One week of being in a beautiful location where your lodging is taken care of. One week of not worrying about cooking or grocery shopping because all of your meals are provided. One week of practice and singing with fellow choristers and professional conductors there to support and nourish your love of singing.

Mindfulness and living in the moment sounds like simple concepts, but are actually very difficult to attain. We invite you to join us not only for music, learning, and camaraderie, but also to enjoy a unique opportunity to let the noisy discourse of the world be replaced with joyous song and space to focus and recharge.

Being able to sing in a breathtaking setting among friends both new and old is at the very heart of why BCI is still thriving three decades after its founding. We invite you discover what it’s like to spend one week focused exclusively on something you love, and go back out into the world with a song in your heart and a spirit renewed.

To find out more information and keep up with the latest BCI news, click here.

And the winner is…

January 11, 2017

Berkshire Choral International is an educational nonprofit. Megan Brown Helm is a music teacher. Some things are simply meant to be. 

Megan, a resident of Thetford, Vermont, is the winner of our nationwide singing contest held last fall, and will receive a free week at BCI this summer. The alto describes herself as a “compulsive chorister” who sings in multiple choruses and goes wherever she is needed. She was chosen for her outstanding performance singing Swing Low, which stood out among the other wonderful pieces that were submitted. 

“Megan’s performance was wonderful and it’s clear she takes a lot of pride in her singing,” said Debi Kennedy, president of Berkshire Choral International. “We’re so happy to invite her to join us and we know she’ll be a great addition to our singing community.” 

While Megan sings in several choirs, she most often finds herself in a music classroom at Crossroads Academy, where she instills a love of music in students from kindergarten to third-grade. 

But when she’s not in the classroom, Megan can be found singing in area choirs such as Full Circle and at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Hanover, NH. , as well as with any other local groups that need help. But this summer, she will come to Sheffield and add BCI to her list when she tackles Mahler. 

“We don’t get to sing Mahler very often in our world and if you have an orchestra that can do it then that’s kind of special,” Megan said. 

Speaking of special, Megan spent 25 years teaching music in Kansas City and singing with Simon Carrington, director of Choral Studies at the University of Kansas, where her husband worked. Her work with the Kansas City Symphony Chorus under the direction of Charles Bruffy was a highpoint, and Megan hopes to possibly reconnect with a few former members in Sheffield this summer. From a cappella groups to performing at Renaissance fairs, Megan fostered her love of singing at every turn. 

That continued with her involvement in Voices 21c, a diverse project choir dedicated to positive interactions, social change, and global understanding. Megan helps bring choral music to prison inmates, advocates for social justice through song, and even attended a choral festival in Briancon, France as artists-in-residence last summer, where she performed a program called “Pain and Promise” to talk about war, peace, and coping. The group has also been invited to Israel and Palestine this August to spread peace through song.

“I believe in the importance of music and harmony and voices to basically restore peace and sanity,” Megan said. 

That peace, harmony, and love of music spurred Megan to enter our nationwide singing contest on social media, after discovering BCI through the advertising efforts of our new public relations agency. Her family used to camp in the Berkshires so she’s looking forward to returning to the area, continuing her love of singing, and making more new friends than she can count. 

“Singers aren’t just musicians, they’re writers and scholars and doctors and homemakers – people with rich pasts and interesting presents,” Megan said. “I’m really intrigued by the people but also the programming and extracurriculars on music history and education. It’s going to be fun!”

If you’d like to join Megan as a chorister in 2017, you can click here for more information about the application process. Check out Megan's submission video below!

BCI in Vienna

January 4, 2017

In August 2016, our choristers traveled to Vienna and studied under conductor, Jane Glover. Hear their breathtaking performance of Schubert’s Mass in E-flat Major and Haydn’s Theresienmesse.