Illumine Vocal Arts Ensemble was founded in the fall of 2013 by Dr. Tony Thornton, then the director of choirs at UMass Amherst. It was originally named Illuminati, and its mission was and is to present choral performances of outstanding quality, range, and inspiration to our larger community. We perform revered masterworks and new compositions, alone and in collaboration with other area groups, in ticketed concerts and as benefits or sing-alongs.
In spring of 2022, Dr. Thornton joined the faculty of Oklahoma State University. Now in our eleventh season we are delighted to welcome Dr. Arianne Abela as our Artistic Director. A superbly trained, expressive and dynamic conductor, she brings a fresh perspective to our project.
We are very proud of the reputation Illumine has built among area music-lovers, and with your help we will continue to brighten the air.
“Performances at the level of Illuminati's give the listener a clear window into the composer's soul.” - Clifton Noble Jr, The Republican, Oct. 15, 2016
|2023-4 Board of Directors
|Dr. Arianne Abela,
Artistic Director (ex officio)
|Members at Large
Third Place Winner, 2019-20 American Prize for Choral Excellence
a national juried choral competition
Arianne Abela is Director of Choral Activities at Amherst College and is founder and artistic director of Kaleidoscope Vocal Ensemble, a renowned professional ensemble focused on early and new music with dedication to the intersection of racial, ethnic and gender diversity, and the intersection of arts and social justice. Kaleidoscope has performed as a headliner at ACDA, Podium in Canada, and other renowned festivals and conferences.
Abela has served on conducting faculty at Wayne State University in Detroit, MI, and is founder and of the Detroit Women's Chorus and Detroit Justice Choir, ensembles dedicated to social justice and community empowerment. Focusing her efforts on community building through song, Abela founded The House of Clouds and has worked closely with Musicians Take a Stand to organize over a dozen benefit concerts for charities and various causes across the country.
In the realm of opera, Abela has guest conducted opera productions with various Michigan-based opera companies including Detroit's OperaMODO, and serves as music director for Vancouver-based opera company, re:Naissance. Prior to her time in Detroit, Abela lived in Connecticut where she served on faculty at Wesleyan University, Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts, The Westover School and Notre Dame High School in West Haven.
In 2012, Abela was featured conducting on NBC's Today Show and was a semi-finalist in Season 8 of America's Got Talent director of Connecticut-based 3 Penny Chorus and Orchestra. The ensemble later recorded for the soundtrack of the film Walk of Shame starring Elizabeth Banks.
Abela received her doctorate in conducting from the University of Michigan with Jerry Blackstone and Eugene Rogers, holds a master’s degree in choral conducting from Yale University with Marguerite Brooks, Jeffrey Douma, and Simon Carrington, and a bachelor of arts from Smith College. Abela sings professionally in ensembles across the United States and Canada such as Yale Choral Artists, sounding light, Etherea Vocal Ensemble, Arkora, and Audivi. Originally from the San Francisco bay area, she sang with the San Francisco Girls Chorus for many years.
This October, we were honored to be conducted by E. Wayne Abercrombie, Professor of Music Emeritus and former Director of Choral Activities at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, for a sold-out crowd at our October performance of music by Martin, Bach and Alice Parker.
We are particularly grateful to Wayne for being so generous with his time, talent and support.
Please save the dates for our other spring concerts, along with a special event.
On Saturday, March 2, at 7:00 pm at Abbey Chapel at Mount Holyoke College, we’ll join forces with the Mount Holyoke Glee Club to sing Jonathan Dove’s “The Passing of the Year,” for double chorus and piano. Composed in 2000, this beautiful piece sets poems by William Blake, Emily Dickinson, George Peel, Thomas Nashe and Tennyson to depict the cycle of the seasons. Also on the program will be “The House of Clouds,” a composition that Colin Britt, conductor of the MHC Glee Club, composed for Arianne Abela and mezzo-soprano Debi Wong when they were classmates in graduate school at Yale. The three will reunite for this performance, and we will be joined by Connecticut pianist Alan Murchie, another Yale alum. Please join us for this musical reunion of old friends, which will also be Dr. Abela’s inaugural concert as our Artistic Director.
In the spring Illuminati will be performing the 1871 “London” version of the Brahms Requiem, which uses a piano four-hand accompaniment composed by Brahms. Premiered in Britain in 1871, it has regained popularity with the powerful advocacy of Harry Christophers and The Sixteen, who appreciate that it allows the choir to be more subtle and supple.
This piece has a special place in our hearts – an ad hoc chorus performed it in 2011 with conductor Tony Thornton, as a Red Cross benefit in the wake of a devastating snowstorm, helping to lead to the formation of Illuminati. We will sing on Friday, May 10, at Buckley Recital Hall in Amherst College.
In between these two concerts, on March 26th, Illuminati will host a celebration of the 150th anniversary of Robert Frost’s birth with a community performance of “Frostiana,” by Randall Thompson. This setting of some of Frost’s best-loved poems was commissioned in 1959 by the town of Amherst as a celebration of Frost's 85th birthday and the Amherst Bicentennial. Members of Illuminati will be joined by area high school choirs, including Amherst Regional and Northampton high schools, and by members of the Hampshire Choral Society, whose forerunners premiered the piece.
March 2, 2024, 7:00 PM
Abbey Memorial Chapel
Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley
Jonathan Dove, ‘The Passing of the Year’
Colin Britt, ‘The House of Clouds’
conducted by Arianne Abela and Colin Britt
with guests the Mount Holyoke Glee Club,
Debi Wong, mezzo and Alan C. Murchie, pianist
This program is supported in part by a grant from the South Hadley Cultural Council, a local agency supported by the Mass Cultural Council, a state agency.
Tuesday, March 26, 2024, 7:30 PM
Amherst College, Amherst
Randall Thompson, ‘Frostiana’
conducted by Arianne Abela, Paige Graham and Todd Fruth
with Gregory Hayes, pianist, and special guests the Hampshire Choral Society, Hampshire Young People's Chorus, Northampton High School Chamber Singers, members of the Amherst Regional High School Hurricaine Singers and Mount Holyoke Glee Club, and other community singers
This program is supported in part by a grant from the Amherst Cultural Council, a local agency supported by the Mass Cultural Council, a state agency.
Friday, May 10, 2024, 7:00 PM
Buckley Recital Hall
Amherst College, Amherst
Johannes Brahms, ‘A German Requiem, to Words of the Holy Scriptures, Op. 45’
conducted by Arianne Abela
with Allan Murchie and Grant Moss, pianists
Entrance into the ensemble is by audition only (see audition process below). Dr. Abela seeks singers with considerable choral experience. While perfect sight reading is not required, all singers must fully prepare repertoire before the first rehearsal. Illuminati makes music from the beginning.
If you are interested, please complete the form here and we will email you an audition confirmation with possible times when auditions reopen.
The audition takes approximately ten minutes. Singers will be asked to prepare a simple one-minute piece of their choosing, and perform scales using a variety of articulations (legato, staccato, and marcato) and dynamics to demonstrate color, range, quality, and flexibility. A segment of the audition will emphasize sight-reading and tonal memory (with accompaniment).
If you have any questions, please email illumineChoir@gmail.com.
Music is a primal art, central to every human culture, and singing is its most primal form: unmediated by any instrument, rising directly from our lungs, throats and souls.
But from this primal simplicity an extraordinary body of compositions has emerged over the centuries, the choral literature that weaves many voices together into haunting and sonorous tapestries of sound, one of the highest achievements of human civilization.
The singers of Illumine Vocal Arts Ensemble have prepared for our community concert programs of some of the most beautiful choral music ever written, because this music is our joy, a profound expression of the human spirit, and a light no darkness can put out.
Our concerts have been densely attended and keenly enjoyed. Clifton Noble wrote in his review of February 2018's Rachmaninov All-Night Vigil, “The breathless silence that blessed the cadence of the final movement before the church erupted in a lengthy standing ovation testified to the profound effect of the music on all those present.”
Though many of us are professional musicians, we are not paid for this work. We do pay our conductor, our accompanist, and other instrumentalists; we also pay for rehearsal and performance space.
The money you help us raise will allow us to continue to explore extraordinary repertoire rigorously and with passion.
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Illumine Vocal Arts Ensemble
PO Box 1205
Amherst, MA 01004
Greg Brown & Mary Hubbell
Bruce & Wendy Durfee
Chris Krueger & Jane Bryden
Stephen & Suzanna Adams
Martha & Newton Frohlich
Bruce & Alexandra Lyman
Robert & Silvia Brinkerhoff
Ronna & Neal Erickson
Manuel & Susan Andrade
Rachel Peterson & Roger Bird
Music has the power to move and inspire, to tell important stories, and to bring communities together. The Illumine Vocal Arts Ensemble performs choral pieces and masterworks from all periods and styles, often in collaboration with other musical organizations throughout the Pioneer Valley. Our sold-out concerts attract a discerning audience that shares a passion for performance at the highest level. Noted pianist, composer and music reviewer Clifton Noble, Jr., recently complimented us as "the Valley's finest chorus."
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