Missoula’s International Choral Festival Gives Us Something to Sing About
Every three years, the Missoula International Choral Festival lifts Missoula’s soul in song. And like most successes in our valley, it all started as a dream.
Professor Donald Carey, director of the Missoula Mendelssohn Club—a community men’s chorus—began dreaming in 1985, two years before the first-ever International Choral Festival was brought to Missoula. It was during the Mendelssohn Club’s first time performing concerts in various countries that Carey and the club choristers envisioned Missoula potentially hosting an international choral festival of its own, so they ditched the overthinking and began inviting world-class choral groups to Missoula while they were still traveling.
Upon their return from the trip, a decision would be made to hold the first festival in July 1987, which allowed them—the organizers—two years to lock in the choirs that would attend and gain traction within our community, with the hope that community members would be inspired to open their homes and hearts to their worldwide brothers and sisters.
In true grassroots fashion, the community came together as Carey envisioned. Missoula families served as host families for the visiting choirs, funds were raised to get the groups to our valley, and volunteers were willing and able. That first festival welcomed performing groups from Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Latvia, and Poland as well as Minnesota, South Dakota, and a few from our own treasure state to boot.
It was then that a tradition had begun, becoming the first non-competitive choral festival of its kind in the United States. It was destined to continue in a triennial schedule and this month celebrates its 10th anniversary.
It wouldn’t be fair to say that our community is the only place where something this profound could take place but there’s something to be said about Missoula’s generosity and dedication that makes events like this possible. The festival has become known throughout the world for its artistic excellence and hospitality, and having grown from its grassroots beginnings into a prestigious international event, it’s a flagship for choral festivals worldwide.
This year’s event will feature 13 choirs from all corners of this world and will begin with three free preview concerts on Wednesday, July 13 during which all participating choirs will perform a short set to wet the whistle of their audience. Thursday and Friday will include concerts that will feature a few choirs who will each perform a full program of their music in traditional costumes typical to their nationality.
New to the festival is the “Choir Crawl,” which will take place on Thursday. Similar to Christmas caroling, the choirs will perform a few times in various downtown locations. The Finale concert on Saturday night will feature the “Parade of Nations,” where each choir will give brief performances. The event will conclude with all choirs performing one song together.