Stellarum: New La Jolla-based chamber choir to blend the sacred and the secular at free debut performance
The 12-member amateur group builds on a concept that founder Benjamin Thiele-Long began in the United Kingdom.
Bringing to La Jolla a choral concept he began in the United Kingdom, Benjamin Thiele-Long has assembled a 12-member amateur chamber choir that will perform Saturday, Aug. 13, at St. James by-the-Sea Episcopal Church.
The Stellarum Chamber Choir is composed of men and women of all ages from all over San Diego County. It’s a choral constellation more than two years in the making.
Thiele-Long began working to establish the choir after he moved to San Diego in February 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted those plans. But with live performances having returned, the Stellarum Chamber Choir is poised to give its first concert.
The concert — and the choir’s — model is to blend the sacred and secular, mixing early and modern English and European songs so audiences can be “informed and entertained in equal measure,” Thiele-Long said.
Some pieces were written by Catholic composers in England at a time when anti-Catholic sentiment was on the rise.
“We think about these pieces without knowing the history of grand choral work,” Thiele-Long said. “Actually, they were sung by tiny choirs in secret under the cover of darkness in chapels in English homes for fear that they would be lynched and dragged out of their homes and executed.”
Thiele-Long said Stellarum will perform the pieces in similar darkness to re-create the context and educate audiences about the songs’ origins.
Thiele-Long, who lives in Normal Heights, was a cathedral choral scholar and a lawyer in his native U.K., where he founded the chamber choir Lumen, focused on bringing professional-quality choral music to amateur singers and audiences in London.
He also has directed musicals and cabarets with various performing arts groups.
Lumen accepted invitations to sing in cathedrals across the U.K., at Windsor Castle and at St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican and recorded a crowdfunded album.
Thiele-Long said Stellarum is a “natural evolution” of Lumen, both in concept and name (“lumen” is Latin for “light”; “stellarum” is Latin for “stars”).
“Every single singer is a star, but you don’t see the Milky Way unless you have all of them,” Thiele-Long said. “It’s a kind of a play on that concept of the concert; the sound is only created when you get all the voices together.”
Stellarum is completely volunteer — Thiele-Long included — and is a “safe space for learning,” he said.
Members are auditioned for singing ability but not sight reading of music. To help choir members with their delivery, Thiele-Long leads rehearsals with explanations of the origins of the music, why it was written and what is being conveyed.
That approach extends to the audience, with Thiele-Long sharing the context and nuances of the music. It “not only creates a better quality of sound and performance … but for the audience, the engagement is so much higher,” he said.
“Choral music is the exact opposite of exclusivity; it is literally as inclusive as it can possibly be,” he added. “People come, they sing with their voice, they have no expensive instruments, they have no expensive travel equipment.”
Thiele-Long chose La Jolla as Stellarum’s home because it’s geographically convenient for the choir members but also is the “center of gravity” for music and art, he said.
Thiele-Long hopes that after the first concert, he can build a series of performances over the next few years at no or low cost to grow the popularity of the choir.
“Choral music was the first organized music,” he said. “It shouldn’t be expensive or cost-prohibitive to attend, and in exchange, audiences come away inspired.”
Thiele-Long also hopes to grow Stellarum to 16 people and said anyone is welcome to audition.
“This is all built on a foundation of belief in each other and the enthusiasm for everybody to want to commit to it,” he said.
Stellarum Chamber Choir
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 13
Where: St. James by-the-Sea Episcopal Church, 743 Prospect St., La Jolla
Information: stellarumchoir.com ◆
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