Among many things that Alden Hammond did in life, he founded and led choirs and choruses. He helped people sing. He brought out the voices within us, and helped us achieve harmony.
A few current Chorale members met Alden Hammond at one time or another, though most of us knew him only indirectly. We are among the hundreds of choral singers who follow in his musical slipstream. We are one measure of his impact in the world, of the many lives he touched through his music.
Our chorus, the New Haven Chorale, was the first one that he founded, while still in his late 20’s. Previously, in the late 1940’s, he sang in ground-breaking conductor, Robert Shaw’s Collegiate Chorale, in New York City, the prototype for modern American choruses. There, passionate amateurs pursued musical excellence, and, in the process, techniques employed by most choruses today were born. In 1950, after graduating from Yale University, he noticed that people in New Haven hungered for such a chorus--in which to grow musically, and through which to give back to their community--so he put his experience to work.
A letter he sent to area churches proposed a new kind of chorus for New Haven, one designed to, in his words, “…provide for the residents of this area an opportunity to sing sacred and secular music of all periods in a mixed community chorus, and to create, through the experience of singing together, better understanding among the different races and religions represented in this vicinity.” His vision was utopian, and compelling.
In their first few months, in the winter of 1950, a chorus of over 100 performed to benefit local charities, to help New Haven light the Christmas tree on the green, and to carol for patients in area hospitals during the holidays, all traditions that we continue to this day. Within a year they were performing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the New Haven Symphony Orchestra. Within two years, they were performing Gustav Mahler’s monumental Second Symphony, “Resurrection,” with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, a herculean feat.
Now, over 60 years later, we estimate that our members have contributed--through their rehearsing, performing, mentoring young people, community outreach, and charity projects--over 2 million hours of volunteer service to our community through our chorus. And we are only one of Alden Hammond’s many choruses. Their tremendous, combined, and ongoing impact is the fruit of his vision, his gift for music, his charismatic leadership, and his love for people.
We and our fellow choristers owe Alden Hammond a great debt, as do our audiences and our communities. He created choruses for those of us who sing because we have to. He gave us places to grow as musicians. He gave us communities of fellow singers in which to belong. Most important of all, he gave us ways to make ourselves useful to others--by uplifting people with beautiful and inspiring choral music--and by tapping the power of choral music to do good works in our communities.
So, on behalf of our fellow choristers everywhere…and all our audiences…and all our communities: Thank you, Alden Hammond.