A Great Joy: Seattle Symphony Chorale Prepares Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony

On a rainy Monday evening in October, members of the Seattle Symphony Chorale gather in their rehearsal space at the Swedish Cultural Center in Seattle. After a brief warmup, the conductor asks, “Who is doing Beethoven’s Ninth for the first time?” About five people raise their hands. Someone mutters, “Good luck!” Laughter rings out, followed moments later by powerful singing that feels larger than life. The phrase begins, “Deine Zauber binder weider / Was die Mode streng geteilt” — which translates to, “Your magic reunites those / Whom stern custom has parted,” and continues “All men will become brothers / Under your protective wing.”

The 71-page chorus part for Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is not for the faint of heart; the polished, exuberant and inspiring performance we hear each December is hard won. It’s an important holiday tradition, not only for the audience, but for the chorus, too.

At the first Beethoven’s Ninth rehearsal, Associate Conductor of Chorale Activities Joseph Crnko systematically — and with precision that could be referred to as “surgical” — dissects every nuance, stopping every few measures to perfect each phrase. He never stops moving, and with his quick work and quick wit, keeps the rehearsal lively and moving forward. He is assisted by Kimberly

Russ, the Symphony’s Resident Pianist, who accompanies all Chorale rehearsals in addition to managing her very busy performance schedule.

Chorale members commit their time and artistry to volunteer a total of 185 hours each season, not including their own practice time. They span a variety of careers, including banking, medicine, law, education and tech. While many have joined in recent years, soprano Lillian Lahiri joined the Chorale in 1980. She started singing in the second grade and says that that for her, "It’s a joy watching the artistry of the Chorale and the Symphony continue to increase under Joe Crnko and Ludovic Morlot’s leadership.” Soprano Bonnie Thomas is a voice and piano teacher who has been in the Chorale for 11 years. She calls it “a great joy to be part of this choir. It’s the finest choir and it’s an honor and a privilege to be part of it.”

Members come from far and wide. The record for the longest commute is undoubtedly held by bass Tim Krivanek, who joined the Chorale in 1998. He has two residences, including one in North Vancouver, B.C., where he spends weekends. His Monday morning commute begins in North Vancouver, B.C., where he spends weekends. His Monday morning commute begins in North Vancouver, and that evening’s chorale rehearsal caps a very long day. Tim, a program manager at Boeing, feels that singing in the Chorale helps to balance his artistic side with his business side.

The all-volunteer Chorale is governed by the Chorale Council, which takes care of administrative matters like rehearsal space, scheduling, group activities and rehearsal decorum. Section leaders also act as an artistic committee and help audition new members. 

Chorale devotee and alto Cindy Funaro has held all the volunteer council positions at least twice. Cindy was also married in Benaroya Hall 10 years ago. Every time she steps onstage she gets goose bumps, from both the thrill of performing and memories of her wedding. 

When asked how singing in the Chorale changes him, current Volunteer Council President Kevin Kralman says, “After a 10- to 12-hour day at work, it’s an escape. It’s something different at the end of the day. The Seattle Symphony Chorale provides a serious program with a professional environment for a volunteer group. While other choruses need to raise funds to cover their own overhead, we’re supported by the Symphony, and our job is to sing.”

By Rosalie Contreras


The Seattle Symphony Chorale welcomes new members. Please review the audition requirements on the Chorale’s website at seattlesymphonychorale.org

and contact us at auditions@seattlesymphony.org to schedule an audition.

To find out more about supporting the Seattle Symphony Chorale, contact Tobin Cattolico at 206.215.4833 or tobin.cattolico@seattlesymphony.org.