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Friday, 18 September 2015 09:36

New Janesville choir director strikes the right note

Written by  Edwin Scherzer

JANESVILLE MESSENGER -- The curtain has opened on a new season at the Janesville Performing Arts Center, not only on stage, but in the offices inside with key director positions and instructors. Executive Director Beau Bisson was brought in this past spring, and already has created new additions in the form of a season announcement party, a new community outreach coordinator (Jim McCullough), and a comedy series being added to JPAC’s lineup.

The changes in staff were naturally occurring, Bisson said.

“It all just sort of happened one after the other. The former executive director was starting a family, and the hours here at JPAC simply aren’t conducive to that life,” Bisson said. “We hired Jim (McCullough) to replace Mindy Curtis, who took a position back in the Salt Lake City area, to be closer to her family. Lots of changes, but they are all very positive.”

Another change was a coming-home of sorts when Christopher Smith was chosen as the new youth choir director at JPAC. Smith, who grew up in Milton, moved to the Boston area to pursue his master’s degree at the New England Conservatory. He ended up working in New England and the Midwest professionally for a decade, teaching and performing.

Smith’s accolades are many, including being a two-time recipient of President Obama’s Volunteer Service Award and teaching students who have gone on to appear on “American Idol” and others who have been admitted to nationally recognized conservatories and artists training programs.

Smith, 31, also is an accomplished tenor, performing numerous stage roles in operas and as a tenor soloist in concerts with the Boston Metropolitan Opera. He also has worked with modern  composers as a performer and collaborator.

The hometown tenor said music was just part of his family.

“My mother plays the piano and until recently, directed the adult choir at First Congregational Church in Milton. My father sang with the Badger Chordhawks Barbershop Chorus for many, many years,” Smith said. “My sister was an excellent flutist. My brother played some percussion and piano and also sings.”

Having Smith on staff brings energy and creativity to the choir position, Bisson said.

“He (Smith) has a lot of great new ideas,” Bisson said. “The focus is definitely going to be more on the music, but he also anticipates creating a nice mix of current popular music, as well as a nod to more traditional American music.”

Janesville and Smith just happened to connect at the right time. He was contemplating a change when he discovered the job opening.

“It was quite serendipitous actually,” Smith said. “I had just decided to move back to Wisconsin when I stumbled across the job listing for JPAC’s youth choir director.”

Smith will take charge of JPAC’s two youth choirs and teach some creative children’s courses.

The Song Lab, a songwriting course, “was established because of Christopher’s talents,” Bisson said.

“We asked him (Smith) what he would like to teach this fall, and that seemed like the perfect fit,” Bisson said. “I think people are looking forward to that.”

In addition to teaching students to write music and sing, Smith will continue to pursue performance roles. The first youth choir concert is set for Tuesday, Nov. 24.

Smith is happy to be home, and Bisson is ecstatic about the newest addition to his staff.

“Christopher is a very intelligent guy, and has incredible experience and professional credentials in music,” Bisson said. “I think the youth choir participants will not only be in for a good time this fall, but I think they’ll learn a lot from him, which is certainly one of our goals.”

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