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Boro singers raise the curtain for 75th year

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On May 19 the lights will dim, the curtain will rise and a mass of voices will belt out the first note of the Oratorio Society of Queens’ 75th season.

The oldest performing arts organization in the borough will present its first of two annual concerts, this time at Bayside High School. The 85-member group has been running strong since 1927.

“We recently came into possession of a number of scrapbooks, programs and newspapers articles going all the way back to 1927,” said an excited Ruth Boravicka, spokeswoman for the Oratorio Society of Queens.

“We met with the archivist at the Jamaica Library to help us preserve our history. They will take the materials and see that they have a special place in the Long Island Room in the library.” The Long Island Room serves as an archive of Queens history.

The Oratorio Society of Queens is composed of 85 volunteer members who gather weekly to practice, a change from their regular routine as teachers, lawyers, doctors, writers, artists, librarians and just about any occupation imaginable. “In short, we have people from all walks of New York City life,” Boravicka said.

Managing such a diverse group and arranging two concerts a year may not seem like a big challenege, but it is, Boravicka assures.

Far fro its humble beginnings with about 100 members and an organist, The Oratorio Society of Queens expanded some years ago to have a full professional orchestra and featured soloists, all of whom are professionals as well.

The orchestra, which is paid union fees for its involvement in the performances, and the soloists, who are generally card-carrying union members as well, don’t even make up half of the Oratorio Society of Queens’ expenses. There are also fees for the rehersal space, a conductor’s salary, a rehersal pianist, the purchase of sheet music, security, custodians and more.

“Usually the schools are very accomodating with letting us use their space,” Boravicka said, “but there is still an expense we have to make up on our own.”

When the Oratorio Society of Queens was formed, society was very different. In post-Victorian America, garden parties and other socials were very common fund-raisers. “long gone are the days when friendly card party reciepts helped pay expenses,” Boravicka said. “Maude Wilson of Flushing was made an honorary member in the early-1930s because she contributed the entire proceeds of her annual garden party and Dahlia flower show to the society, including the sale of her prize Lady Cecilia and Sir James dahlias.”

Today, the Oratorio Society of Queens sells its singers memberships for single concerts at $75 each and for the pair for $125. There is also an annual fund-raising dinner, reciepts from the performances, funds members recieve from lobbying their full-time employers and some political and arts organization aid.

Though the costs for the Oratorio Society of Queens have changed over the years, the music has not. Formed in retalliation to New York Mayor Jimmy Walker’s denegration of the New York Oratorio Society, the Flushing Oratorio Society (which later became the Oratorio Society of Queens) shied away from the pre-jazz shift in music and focused on the classics. That vision remains strong today. At the May 19 concert, the Oratorio Society of Queens will feature works by Mozart, Bahams, Rossini, Copland and Vivaldi.

The gala concert will be held at 4 p.m. Sunday, May 19, at Bayside High School. Call 460-0726.

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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