Our History

The initial idea to create a chorus which eventually became the Sylvan Chorale, grew from an experience that General Manager, Cathy Keel had in singing with Capitol Opera Harrisburg in the presentation of an oratorio by Walter Robins – “The Breath of God”.  In this experience Cathy met many wonderful local singers, some of whom eventually joined the Chorale and several professional singers who had come to Harrisburg to perform solo work including Joseph Smith, co-founder with Cathy of the Sylvan Chorale and now our Artistic Director and Conductor.  After the experiences in the oratorio, Cathy was speaking with Laurice Simmons Kennel, a singer with Opera Delaware and a soloist in the oratorio.   They discussed a way in which to bring the oratorio group back together.   Ms. Kennel suggested the Verdi Requiem for our first concerts.  While we were unable to get the oratorio singers back together, Cathy's thought was to invite singers from local church choirs and ensembles and create a chorus from this group.   Cathy invited Joseph Smith to be our bass soloist for Verdi.  He was very interested in this project and, in February, 2012 , Cathy and Joseph discussed other ideas for our chorus.  His suggestions included the Brahms Requiem or Rutter Requiem, Verdi being a bit beyond our group at this point.   In discussion, Cathy decided on Rutter and Joseph accepted the job as Conductor and Cathy then began the job of recruiting a chorus.  We had great success, eventually having a chorus of nearly 90 singers from many local groups.    We began planning our concerts for April, 2013 and, in the fall of 2012 began rehearsals and recruiting an orchestra.   Cathy was fortunate to obtain the services of Alice Bish of the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra as the coordinator of our orchestra which eventually became known as the John Eaken Orchestra.    In November of 2012, Joseph asked Cathy if we had a name for the chorus.  At that point we were only calling ourselves the Requiem Chorus.  Here follows how the Chorale received its name.   

When our Conductor, Joseph Smith, was driving back to Chicago from Linglestown after the performances of Rigoletto in fall 2012, he was looking at all the beautiful fall trees and literally thought "...our forefathers would have called this place 'sylvan. "  It was one of those "lightbulb" moments for me...as I was driving - I literally said to myself "Hmm, 'sylvan' = 'sylvania' - - and who was one of our most important forefathers in this region - - William Penn! - Penn's sylvania! I didn't know if it was a lightbulb moment, or one of those moments when you slap yourself in the forehead and say "Of course, you dummy, why did it take you so long to figure that out!" - I guess it was a little bit of both. That "lightbulb" moment stuck with me, and when it came to me that there was really no name for the first performance by the group in April, 2013, I thought - use the word "Sylvan" somehow...so I came up with 'The Sylvan Chorale.'"

The General Manager, Cathy Keel, agreed with Joe to put the name in place for the first performance so we would have an identity all our own.  So that we recognize all the various ensembles our group represents, we are including the following tag-line: "Sylvan Chorale is a group of vocalists and instrumentalists of various ensembles from far and wide who meet to perform in the capitol city of Pennsylvania...Harrisburg."


Our premier performances in April 2013 Performances featured:

  • A 90-Voice combined chorus from area churches, schools, and community groups

  • Accompaniment by the John Eaken Orchestra, with instrumentalists from the Harrisburg & York Symphonies

  • Conducted by Joseph Smith, Chicago Symphony Chorus

  • Soloist, Laurice Simmons Kennel, Opera Delaware

  • The Children's Choir of Lancaster

  • Young Musicians from the State Street Academy of Music

A free will offering was taken at each performance to benefit the Ecumenical Food Pantry and the State Street Academy of Music Scholarship Fund.