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A season of change: Bradford T. Dumont named music director of the Salisbury Singers

Telegram & Gazette Staff

WORCESTER – Becoming the new music director of a renowned chorus such as the Salisbury Singers for its 47th season would be a challenge, although an exciting one, under any circumstances.

That would also be especially true even in normal times given that the person is succeeding Michelle Graveline, who announced last year that she would be stepping down as artistic director after 22 successful seasons with the conclusion of 2019-20. She is now artistic director emeritus.

Bradford T. Dumont has now just taken the reins as Salisbury Singers’ music director at a time, of course, that is anything but normal due to the pandemic. What was supposed to have been Gravline’s farewell concert, a performance of Mendelssohn’s “Elijah” in Mechanics Hall on May 3, had to be canceled.

But Dumont thinks that some aspects of familiarity will be helping the chorus, and himself, in a situation that will call for plenty of adaptability on several levels. Dumont was assistant conductor with the Salisbury Singers two seasons ago, and associate conductor last season. He also has some exciting plans of his own for the Salisbury Singers, and a reputation for community involvement with the arts.

“It’s an interesting time, obviously. It’s a huge benefit for me right now not walking into this group cold,” Dumont said. “My goal is to stay incredibly flexible. Keep working and pop right up as the Salisbury Singers as soon as is possible.”

The board of the Salisbury Singers has made clear its support. “Mr. Dumont is a wonderfully passionate and talented musician, and we are excited to follow his leadership into the next season,” the board said in an announcement about Dumont’s appointment as music director.

This is around the time when the Salisbury Singers would usually be announcing its new season.

“I’d love to be doing that right now. I’m hopeful by August to have a sense of what we’ll do,” Dumont said. 2020-21 is likely to be a season that “that’s rolled out over time.” The fall may have virtual online performances with spring concerts not announced until November, he said.

“Even if it is digital we’ll be working to make something happen – forward motion,” Dumont said.

There is a further link of continuity in that Dumont had previously succeeded Graveline last year as director of choral activities at Assumption College following her retirement there after 35 years. He had also worked with her there.

“I am thrilled that Salisbury Singers selected Brad Dumont to be their new Music Director,” Graveline said. “Having worked with him for three years, I found him to be a talented young conductor with a great passion for choral music. He has many creative ideas for programming and he is very savvy about technology and social media, which I think arts organizations need to utilize more these days. Since I retired from Assumption College, I have seen what he has done this past year with my former chorus, the Assumption College Chorale, and I thought they sounded fantastic. Brad is definitely an asset to the Worcester choral scene.”

Dumont, who is originally from Rochester, N.H., and now lives in Boston, received a master of music in choral conducting at Boston University in 2019. He earned a B.S. in music education and a B.A. in music from Plymouth State University in 2013. While he was studying at Boston University, Dumont taught with Dr. André de Quadros at the Psychiatric Rehabilitation Center in a course utilizing music as a practice for improving health in students across the city working on their mental well-being. He has also been an arts instructor at the Suffolk County Men’s Prison. Dumont is operations and special projects manager for Emmanuel Music in Boston and a board member of the Greater Boston Choral Consortium. From 2011-2019, he was the artistic administrator for the New Hampshire Music Festival.

As part of his involvement with the Salisbury Singers as assistant conductor in his first season, Dumont was involved in the 2017 project that brought five choruses and a full orchestra together for a performance of Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem” in Mechanics Hall. Last season he was entrusted to lead the Salisbury Singers when it was part of the 40th holiday pops concert presented by the Massachusetts Symphony Orchestra in Mechanics Hall on Dec. 14. He conducted the Salisbury Singers March 1 concert in First Baptist Church that featured Carol Barnett’s contemporary work, “The World Beloved: A Bluegrass Mass,” a blend of the classical mass with traditional bluegrass.

“Michelle’s been immensely kind and generous with her time, and let me take charge in places and help out,” Dumont said.

The March 1 concert ended up being the last of the season. The hope is to perform “Elijah,” or another farewell concert for Graveline, in the future when the general situation for performances is clearer.

The Salisbury Singers, named after one of Worcester’s most distinguished families, was founded by the late Malama Robbins Collinsworth who had a captivating passion for music, and the group, and led them to immediate acclaim in 1973-74. Robbins Collinsworth retired and moved to Florida in 1991. The chorus gradually saw a dip in membership between her departure and Graveline coming on board in the Spring of 1999, when the numbers stood at 25. Now with 80+ members, the organization is back to a prominent position in a community that has a remarkable ongoing tradition of fine choruses, including the Worcester Chorus and the Master Singers of Worcester.

Still, the Salisbury Singers did go through a period of reflection with Graveline’s departure, Dumont said. “Whether we should continue to move forward. The answer was a resounding ‘yes.’ ”

The pandemic has led to further room for thought.

“I think it’s a little bit less about the ‘what?’ of our organization to more of the ‘why?’ of our organization, which is a sense of community in the Worcester area. We’re focused on the ‘why?’ – coming together,” Dumont said.

With regard to finances, there may be potential audience members who will struggle to come to concerts in the months ahead, he said. “We’re considering our options and how we can support the community to attend. We’re planning a season that can be exciting and interactive and affordable.” As a practical matter in the short term, that is likely to mean the Salisbury Singers having a limited musical accompaniment, with perhaps a solo organ or harp, or singing a cappella, Dumont said.

“I’m a big proponent of finding connections with our music-making to our community. Themes, topics, causes ... (Performing) in downtown Worcester, and bringing music out to cities in the sounding region. And also explore ways Salisbury Singers can be considered a collaborative organization. All of this with maintaining the high standard Michelle had established.”

Dumont said the organization will be “constantly seeking out and expanding its membership. We will be actively researching and recruiting people to join us when we can all get together again.”

Meanwhile, “I’ve really loved getting to know the Worcester community. It really seems to be a tremendous community, and one I’m looking forward to getting more and more involved in,” he said.

However, this would also usually be the time when the Salisbury Singers would be starting to take a break for the summer. And the here and now getting of together in person is not going to be possible and will be online instead.

“We are going to be starting up soon just a way to communicate,” Dumont said. “Check in with section leaders and find out the choir’s doing. It depends on what the feeling of everybody is going forward.”

When practice and rehearsals resume in earnest in the fall, “we would probably try a series of online events for our singers. Song-leadings. Practice songs online together. It’s less about learning to sing parts and more a place to sing so we can do some creative singing,” Dumont said.

When the pandemic hit Massachusetts, live performance organizations “were one of the first to be shut down and I think we’ll be one of the last to come back,” he noted.

“I think the hardest thing we’re facing right now is the complete inability to make a decision. We have to remain flexible so we can adjust when things change ...

“I’d like to think we’d be able to come back in some small way or another (live in person), even if it’s a group of eight straight across from each other in a room. We’re looking at smaller concert venues, everyone spaced out in smaller groups.”

Something that’s being considered by several local music organizations is performing together in some shape or form a joint concert to reflect on the pandemic, Dumont said. The Salisbury Singers would be part of that.

“All organizations have the ability to create a a response to what we’ve been through, whether it’s the poetry of singers or reflections of singers. And there’s music that speaks to the context of this situation even if it wasn’t written for it. There’s music that reflects reconciliation,” Dumont said.

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