The sweet sounds of Dolce Canto are heading to South Korea
Each morning for nearly 15 years Peter Park, the artistic director of Dolce Canto, dreamed of taking the choir on an international tour. His dream, while once a far-flung idea, becomes reality this April when he and 24 choir members travel 5,500 miles to South Korea to bring their clear voices and message of peace to Korean citizens.
Over the years, the number of members has ebbed and flowed as life often gets in the way—families are started, graduate students move away, jobs become too demanding—but the dream has remained the same and so has what’s kept this group of talented singers together: “A shared love of singing great music,” said Park.
Being a member offers great rewards but it also requires great dedication. “Our rehearsal schedule is very similar to that of a professional orchestra,” said Park, that is to say demanding. “The singers really push themselves to be the best they can be and enjoy learning and performing new music.” Members are asked to learn pieces on their own time prior to a performance, and then hours are spent as a group perfecting them.
But “the best part,” said alto section leader, Beth Mast, who is one of three members that has been with the group since its inception and will join the group in Korea, “is being included in a group of such diverse and talented people. It is exciting and humbling at the same time. You’ll never find a better group of people and I feel really lucky to get to be a part of that.”
The trip to South Korea is not only a dream realized but it also supports Dolce Canto’s goal statement to “participate in exchanges that build connections between people, encourage engaged citizenship and promote goodwill.”
Over the years, Missoula has hosted several Korean choirs as part of the Missoula International Choral Festival. Through Park’s involvement with the festival, he was encouraged to come for a visit by these Korean choirs that were eager to host one from Missoula.
“The country is rich in culture and music with an especially strong choral scene,” says Park, and so the thought of a tour was always in the back of his mind.
Things were set in motion when Park attended the World Choral Symposium in Seoul in 2014, where he was reunited with some of the conductors he had met in Missoula and discovered they were still interested in hosting.
“Upon my return, I immediately brought the idea of touring Korea to the choir and the membership was receptive,” he said.
Seoul will be the center of the tour but the choir is also traveling to the cities of Iksan, Ansan, and Ulsan for performances over six days in the country. Each concert will consist of individual choir performances by local groups and Dolce Canto, and then the groups will perform as one blending together their Korean and American voices.
Dolce Canto often commissions pieces tailored to the group’s talents and the program for South Korea will be no exception. On the tour, they will be showcasing American composers including Seattle-based John Muehleisen’s new work, “The Stars Still Shine.” According to Park, the text is a poem by Charles Anthony Silvestri, also commissioned by Dolce Canto, and contains a hopeful message of peace.
While a cappella is the preferred medium, Dolce Canto does perform some pieces that require instruments. This allows the group to collaborate with many talented musicians such as the String Orchestra of the Rockies and the award-winning bluegrass band, Monroe Crossing, who will be accompanying Dolce Canto in South Korea, where the two groups will perform Carol Barnett’s “The World Beloved: A Bluegrass Mass.”
“Carol will also be joining us so it’s an embarrassment of riches that we will be joined by such talented musicians,” says Park.
Dolce Canto has been busy getting ready for the journey not only with increased rehearsal time but also fundraising for the trip. Even with outside donations, each member must contribute a significant portion of their travel expenses.
“We want to represent Montana well and share strong performances,” said Park. “It’s simply more fun to perform when you feel 100% confident about your preparation.”
The payoff for all that time and hard work will be the experience of a lifetime.
When the whirlwind trip is over, Dolce Canto will return to Missoula where they will continue to be a vital part of the community’s arts scene. As part of their mission, Dolce Canto makes it a point to support local school music programs, showcase other Missoula choirs and offer vocal workshops. Individual members also extend the outreach by devoting their time to many local non-profit organizations both musically based and beyond. The pure joy of being part of the Dolce Canto is never far away, evident in their singing of the national anthem at Osprey games and the lively leading of Christmas carols at Missoula’s drinking establishments.
“Our audiences continually comment that they appreciate what we add to the local choral scene,” said Park. The 15 years of success that Dolce Canto has experienced is due to Park’s and each individual member’s enthusiasm with producing exceptional choir music. Park summed up the relationship with the Missoula community in one word, “Excellent.” But he goes on to say, “Our dedication to excellence, attention to detail, and diverse programming have set us apart from other choirs.”
Mast added, “It’s been so wonderful to have the group grow so quickly in a decade plus to become such an integral part of Missoula’s arts scene.”