Member Spotlight: Michael Culloton and the Choral Arts Ensemble of Rochester

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Since 2008, Michael Culloton has been the artistic director of Choral Arts Ensemble of Rochester (MN), a 40-voice chorus dedicated to producing music of the highest-quality with first-rate guest artists and collaborators. Chorus America’s president & CEO, Ann Meier Baker, talked with Michael to learn more about CAE's special partnership with the Mayo Clinic.

 Michael Culloton


MC:  In addition to our own concerts, our work with the Mayo Clinic is one of the most rewarding aspects of working with Choral Arts. We are the coordinators for the Rosemary and Meredith Willson Harmony for Mayo Program, a program of Mayo Center for Humanities in Medicine. We produce 50 weekly noontime concerts each year in an atrium on the Mayo Clinic campus. The free concerts are open to patients, staff, visitors, and the general public. The series was underwritten by the late Rosemary Willson—the widow of the late Meredith Willson (composer of The Music Man and The Unsinkable Molly Brown). Both Rosemary and Meredith Willson were patients at the Mayo Clinic.

AMB:  How did this partnership begin?

MC: We’re in the 13th year of working together, so the program pre-dates my time at Choral Arts. The Mayo Clinic folks initiated this idea and came to Rick Kvam, our founder, and asked if the Ensemble would be interested in partnering with them on this concert series, which of course we were. 

AMB:  How does the partnership work?

MC:  We get a grant each year from the Mayo Clinic to coordinate the concert series. The grant covers the costs associated the concerts, as well as the salary for our part-time staff member, Sarah Monson, who is the concert coordinator for this program. Sarah recruits and selects the performers and handles other concert details as well. She has a lot of great singers and instrumentalists to draw from in the immediate area, but we feature performers from other regions in the U.S. and beyond as well. We also include young musicians in our programming.

AMB:  Does the Choral Arts Ensemble perform as part of the series?

MC:  We perform on the series five times each year. About 10 of our singers are actually employed by the Mayo Clinic, so this program is especially close to their hearts.

AMB:  What do you think the concerts mean for the Mayo Clinic community?

MC:  We provide a balm for the spirit. Patients typically come to the Mayo Clinic for very serious health challenges and it’s an honor for us to give them an hour of great music that either helps heal or helps lift them from their immediate concerns. The community really benefits from the partnership that produces this series: not only the patients but the staff as well, whose work on behalf of the patients is so important.

AMB:  That is really inspiring, Michael. In addition to this special initiative with the Mayo Clinic, the Choral Arts Ensemble of Rochester produces its own concerts, of course. If I could give you a magic wand for your chorus, what would you make happen?

MC:  Ooh, that’s easy. I would want more money for commissioning new works! I love supporting composer-artists. I would also like to get more community involvement in musicmaking. I would use my magic wand to get more people to take the leap and find their musical outlet. The first step towards this that we’ve taken at Choral Arts is to offer Community Sings that involve one night of rehearsal and then a performance.

AMB:  How has Chorus America been helpful to you?

MC:  The greatest thing about Chorus America is that you understand how to help us both artistically and administratively—no one else has that vision. The Conferences really helped shape me early on, and your dual mission has been very important to us over the years.