About Us

Celebrating 60 Years with the New Haven Oratorio Choir!

In 1963, the Church of the Redeemer already had a notable music program when its Director, Allen Wolbrink, decided to expand the repertoir of its Senior Choir. To that end, he invited singers from the larger community to join the church singers to found the Redeemer Oratorio Choir (ROC). The purpose of this new choir was to perform larger works of sacred music.

In an interview with the New Haven Register on the occasion of their choir's 20th anniversary celebration in 1984, Wolbrink explained, "There is a wonderful repertoire of choral works meant to be performed in church but which seldom is." Works such as the Bach cantatas and the smaller masses of Haydn and Schubert “don’t require a huge chorus but they do require forces and rehearsal time not available to the average church choir.” Wolbrink added, “The New Haven Chorale was then the only area chorus open to all singers, and their membership was over 100. They mainly performed the big choral pieces like the Verdi Requiem whereas we focused on somewhat more intimate works.”

Concert poster and program cover from a 1978 Good Friday performance of the Duruflé Requiem, when photocopying was black-and-white only, and a visually striking poster on a budget meant doing artwork and calligraphy by hand.

Audiences at first were small, but grew steadily. In its early years the ensemble performed such works as Brahms’s Deutsches Requiem, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, Randall Thompson’s Peaceable Kingdom, and Durufle’s Requiem. Julia Blue Raspe and Howard Foster were stalwarts of both the church choir and the Oratorio Choir, and were regular soloists in almost every performance. For more than two decades, the spring concert of the ROC constituted the Good Friday service for the Church of the Redeemer.

Following Mr. Wolbrink, the Oratorio choir was directed by Patricia Phillips, Gayle Kirkwood, Anne Matlack Hicks, and Nicholas Shumway.

In 1990 the ROC was separately incorporated as the New Haven Oratorio Choir (NHOC) and Mark Bailey was appointed Musical Director in 1993. During his leadership NHOC developed unusual competence in music from the Baroque era and performances with orchestra became a regular feature of its concerts. 

Daniel Shaw became Music Director in 2011 and developed NHOC into a primarily a cappella ensemble which performs an ever wider range of sacred and secular music. He has delightfully introduced the group to thoroughly enjoyable, often challenging yet less familiar music. Following his leadership, NHOC now performs several concerts each year to local audiences outside of New Haven and is committed to introducing new works by present-day composers.

Following the closure of our home at the Church of the Redeemer in 2019, the choir moved to a new rehearsal space a little further up Whitney Avenue to St. Thomas' Episcopal Church. In March of 2020, the choir was faced with new challenges in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic; after a season of virtual rehearsals, the choir returned to in-person rehearsals and appointed its new Artistic Director, Kevin Bailey.

Over the years, several local foundations, including Choral Arts New England, The New Alliance Foundation, The Community Foundation of New Haven, The Ethel and Abe Lapides Foundation, and the New Haven Mayor’s Community Arts Grant Program, have joined numerous loyal donors and
choir members in supporting the choir. Throughout its half century the NHOC has greatly benefited from the enduring support and good will of the Church of the Redeemer.

Although 60 years brings understandable and often beneficial changes to a musical organization, two features at the heart of its founding continue to characterize NHOC: a commitment to sacred music and an openness to all members of the community. These features, plus its uncompromising commitment to musical quality, augur well for its future.


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