Making Music Together
Kathleen Lavey
April 26, 2013
Lansing State Journal

"I'm a musician. I need a musical outlet and I love to conduct."  Dale Bartlett, Arts Chorale Conductor

When Dale Bartlett takes baton in hand Tuesday to conduct more than 50 singers in the Arts Chorale of Greater Lansing, he'll lead lighthearted selections from Gilbert and Sullivan and part of a slower, more serious work based on the Bible's Book of Revelation.

All will be anniversary songs for Bartlett, who is marking his 30th season as leader of the chorale.

The group was founded in 1980 and Bartlett took over in 1983. Back then, it was one-third its current size and the concerts were heavy on classical music, mostly because they could borrow rather than buy the music.

"We borrowed music from the MSU libraries or any library we could find," said Bartlett, professor emeritus of the Michigan State University School of Music.

Bartlett, a remarkably youthful 80, grew up on a farm near Lake Odessa in what he calls a musical family. All five children played some kind of instrument; his was French horn. Bartlett earned his bachelor's and master's degrees from MSU, then taught music in Charlotte and Birmingham public schools.

Bartlett and his late wife, Helen, moved their two boys to Lawrence, Kan., where he earned a doctorate and served as a French horn director. The family returned to East Lansing in 1969, when Bartlett went to work as an MSU professor, teaching psychology of music, conducting and French horn. He also was associate director of the School of Music for 13 years, retiring in 1996.

Bartlett was choir director at University Lutheran Church, where the Arts Chorale performs. He said taking on conducting duties for the chorale was a pleasure and a challenge.

"I'm a musician," Bartlett said. "I need a musical outlet and I love to conduct."

The challenge: Merging voices and accompanying instruments into productions the community will enjoy.

"We look at ourselves in the Arts Chorale as being in service to the community," Bartlett said. "I see it as an enhancement to the community, an enrichment."

Chorale members range in age from 20-somethings to senior citizens. You might recognize some of them from their day jobs in education, real estate or medicine. Auditions are required and singers who want to join should have some experience.

Over the year, "the talent level has increased," Bartlett said. "The talent level is one of the major improvements."

The chorale also includes a handful of MSU students, who earn scholarships working with the group.

Hannah Stone, who is about to graduate with a bachelor's degree in vocal performance, is one of them. She's also slated to sing "Poor Wandering One" from Gilbert and Sullivan's "Pirates of Penzance" at the chorale performance Tuesday. This is her second season with the chorale.

"It has actually been incredibly enriching and powerful for me," Stone said. "I've sung with a lot of community ensembles in the past, and I've never had an experience like this before."

Among the things she likes are the air of collaboration Bartlett creates and the dedication of the chorale's community members.

"They just love to make music together," she said. "As a music student, sometimes we get really caught up in the requirements of what we do and we kind of forget to appreciate it and love it. Being in a community like this has sort of reminded me to have fun."

Kathy Ballard of East Lansing joined the choir 20 years ago and now serves as its manager.

"Dale brings an absolute dedication to the group," she said. "He's got energy, amazing energy. His talents are incredible. I know that people who come to the concerts always comment on what a great job Dale does putting together the music for the concerts."

The chorale normally schedules three shows a year, including a holiday program that features a smorgasbord of holiday treats afterward, a February concert and the spring show. Bartlett already has been working on choosing music for next season, when the chorale will drop the February date but make a special holiday appearance with the Lansing Symphony.