The Rochester Community Chorus (RCC) was originated through the efforts of two music teachers from the Rochester Community Schools, Frank Irish and Bernard Leshley, who organized a group of singers to perform for special occasions.  The first performance, in 1981, was a cabaret concert with the Rochester Symphony Orchestra.  In 1983, the Chorus performed in Detroit’s Orchestra Hall, again with the Rochester Symphony Orchestra.  In 1984, the Chorus presented a Lerner and Lowe concert, under the baton of a new director, Al Fisk.

In the Fall of 1986, the RCC was officially established under the joint direction of Al Fisk, Vocal Music Director at Hazel Park High School, and Tim Lentz, Rochester Adams High School Vocal Music Director.  Fisk continued as RCC Director for the next five years. 

From the very beginning of the history of the Chorus, Paula D’Ambrosio has been its accompanist.  Her support from behind the keyboard has helped to mold the Chorus into an impressive ensemble through the years.  Her husband, the late Gerald D’Ambrosio, was the group’s first president.

In those early years, The RCC also participated in concerts with the Heart of the Hills Barbershop Chorus, and made appearances at the Palace, Tiger Stadium, and Cobo Hall.  The RCC has made the Rochester Christmas Parade an annual affair, and has performed at the Rochester Prayer Breakfast, Rochester’s Heritage Festival, and for various local organizations.

The RCC is currently under the musical leadership of Joe Bentley, Director of Musical Activities at Rochester College.  Bentley assumed the position of Music Director in the fall of 1991.  Under his leadership, the Chorus has established itself as a regular partner with the Rochester Symphony Orchestra, and has performed a number of choral-orchestral works with the RSO and on its own.  As an added benefit to singers, Rochester College now offers college credit for membership in the RCC to encourage students and community members alike as they pursue excellence in choral singing.

Performances with the Rochester Symphony Orchestra and the Rochester College A Cappella Chorus have become favorites of RCC members as well as their audiences.  This magical collaboration of voices has afforded the students of Rochester College the opportunity to sing major choral works with a community-based choir and to have access to performances with professional orchestras.  The RCC has also benefited from this association by having the opportunity to mentor young singers and to be buoyed by their youthful vocalism.

In the Spring of 1997, the RCC undertook its first production of a full choral-orchestral work on its own, performing the Mozart Requiem.  During the Christmas seasons of 1999 and 2000, the RCC continued this vein of production, mounting its own performances of Handel’s Messiah, with orchestra and soloists, playing to a packed house each time. 

Following the death of Bernard Leshley in 1997, The RCC performed a memorial concert, “A Tribute to Bernard Leshley,” with proceeds benefiting the newly established Leshley Music Scholarship Fund at Rochester College.  Mr. Leshley had not only been a  founder of the RCC, but had also taught for 24 years at Rochester College.  The RCC still contributes annually to the fund, which helps to support a student majoring in music at Rochester College.  In April 2000, a second memorial concert was dedicated to the memory of Sylvia Irwin, one of the original officers of the Chorus and a founding member. 

In the Fall of 1998, the RCC invited Dr. Tony Mowrer, then Professor of Music and Chair of the Division of Liberal Arts at Rochester College, to join the staff as assistant conductor.  Mowrer continued as a singer and assistant conductor for the next four years.

Bentley and Mowrer, shared the podium for the Spring 2002 concert, “A Tribute to the American Spirit,” performed at Auburn Hills Presbyterian Church, and again at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church.  Several members of the choirs of both churches joined the RCC and the Rochester College A Cappella Chorus in the performance of Fauré’s Requiem and Randall Thompson’s Testament of Freedom, supported by a chamber orchestra hired for the occasion.

The Spring of 2003 was occupied with performances of the Mozart Requiem with the St. Clair Symphony Orchestra at South Lake High School in Macomb County, and again with the Rochester Symphony Orchestra at Stoney Creek High School in Rochester.  The Rochester College A Cappella Chorus was again part of the choral mix, and the concerts were tremendously successful.

In the Spring of 2004 the RCC decided to take a sabbatical to re-examine its purpose and effect in the community.  It has established working committees from within the membership to explore better ways to recruit singers, establish a website, work on improving public relations, and reconfigure its music library.

The 2004-2005 season will be devoted to more collaborations with the Rochester Symphony Orchestra in productions of Messiah scheduled for December, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 for the Spring.  We’re looking for good singers to join us for rehearsals beginning in September.

(Update to come)