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Schola Cantorum’s 55th season is veteran conductor’s last

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Gregory Wait is embarking on his final season leading the South Bay choral group Schola Cantorum after 30 years. (Courtesy Lloyd Levy)

When Schola Cantorum opens its 55th season on Saturday, the choral group will celebrate J.S. Bach, singing three of his cantatas from three centuries ago, and say farewell to Gregory Wait, its treasured director of 30 years.

Wait is among choral conductors who don’t regard the singers as “his.” Schola, he says, is “owned by the singers and all of us. I want my final season to be about the music and Schola, and not so much about me. The joy and love that I have for music is in the doing of it every day, not in the applause or accolades.”

Wait, director of vocal studies at Stanford University, started his career conducting church and community choirs in the 1970s. At Stanford since 1979, he conducted the Memorial Church Choir, then added the Congregational Oratorio Society in 1985 and Schola Cantorum in 1989. (The chorus was “rebranded” as Schola Cantorum Silicon Valley last year.)

He has selected a varied and ambitious program for his final season: the opening all-Bach concert “For the Love of Bach” on Saturday in Palo Alto, “A John Rutter Christmas” on Dec. 16, Orff’s “Carmina Burana” on March 16-17 and, on May 24, Brahms’ German Requiem, which Wait calls his “favorite work of all time.”

Under Wait’s direction, the auditioned 80-voice chorus has engaged in such hugely ambitious projects as the St. Matthew Passion in Stanford Memorial Church, the Mozart Requiem commemorating the first and 10th anniversary of 9/11, Donald McCullough’s “Holocaust Cantata” and many others.

The challenge to the conductor, Wait says, has been “to treat a fairly large chorus as though it were a chamber choir. So, we put a premium on the sound and precision of the ensemble in repertoire ranging from Renaissance to contemporary, sacred and secular, musical theater, opera, masses, passions, and so much more.”

Deborah Anderson, who has sung with Schola for 48 years, echoes Wait’s dedication and involvement: “I’ve been in the chorus since I was a 19-year-old Stanford student, and now I’m a grandmother of 12. Schola is unique with extremely high quality, but it also has a very family-oriented feel to it. That’s been the case with all of the conductors, but very much so with Greg.

“After a successful career as a professional tenor soloist, Greg is in high demand as a voice teacher. He works high caliber voice lessons into our rehearsals, which has made us a far better chorus under his leadership. But he does it so deftly, we’re not always aware it’s happening,” she adds.

Anderson and other Schola singers have been collecting the best of Wait’s pithy and koan-like sayings, which they call “Gregisms.” Examples: “Never sing wider than your nostrils” and “When you sing in French, your lips should enter the room first.”

IF YOU GO
Schola Cantorum Silicon Valley
Where: First Congregational Church, 1985 Louis Road, Palo Alto
When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 3
Tickets: $28, free for students under 25
Contact: (650) 254-1700, scholacantorum.org

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