Looking Back at 25 Years of Service: Dr. Anne Matlack, Artistic Director of the Harmonium Choral Society
Wednesday, September 26, 2012 • 8:45pm
MADISON, NJ - Growing up in Northwest Philly, Dr. Anne Matlack knew at a young age there was one thing she had a passion for and that was music.
“I just really loved music,” she said.
She participated in choirs and played instruments throughout her teen and high school years. Upon entering Yale University, she wanted to play the flute or piano, but her church choir director suggested trying the organ because it could lead to jobs. So, she took his advice and became an organist at school.
“I sang in the chapel choir and I really liked the conductor, so I kind of wanted to be him,” Dr. Matlack said.
As she progressed through college, her love for conducting grew, she said. In her junior year, she realized what she wanted to do. Choral music is unique because it combines music, with spoken word, literature and poetry, she said.
She began to appreciate how a conductor works and the process of putting pieces together, she said. She also was the assistant conductor of the glee club as a senior.
She took a year off after school and worked in a few churches in New Haven, Connecticut before attending graduate school at the University of Cincinnati. She got a new job at a church in the Connecticut area, but since she was living in New Jersey at this point, the commute was not fun, she said.
“I got to come out of grad school and do immediately what I was meant to do,” she said.
Her excellent conducting hadn’t gone unnoticed. Not long after she started, the Harmonium Choral Society of Morristown came to see her and offered her a job as conductor.
When she started with the group 25 years ago, there were only 40 singers, but today there are 100. It took a while for them to become noticed, but eventually, they became widely known.
Matlack’s passion for musical excellence and innovative programming has led Harmonium to become one of the finest choral arts organizations in New Jersey.
The chorus has developed school and senior outreach programs, and an annual high school student composition contest, now in its 15th year, which won the 2009 Chorus America Education and Outreach Award.
Creative partnerships spearheaded by Matlack include developing a Children's Chorus at Morristown's Neighborhood House, and partnering with the Shakespeare Theater on Hamlet in 2008. In 2010, Harmonium was a finalist for the new American Prize in the Arts. Other recent honors include performances at the American Choral Director's Association Convention in Philadelphia in 2010 and the American Guild of Organists Convention in Morristown in 2011.
As the choir grew, it became more entrenched in the community. Everyone knew about the choir and wanted to see them, Matlack said. The choir also went on tours and she said some of the more memorable ones were in England in 1995 on the Fourth of July and in Italy and in Eastern Europe where they saw where the Holocaust's concentration camps were located.
But, the woman with music in her blood, doesn’t just conduct at the Harmonium Society. She has also been the organist/choirmaster at Grace Episcopal Church in Madison for 21 years where she directs a full program of children and adult choirs and a concert series, Grace Community Music.
Under her leadership the choir program has grown to include an excellent all-volunteer adult chorus which performs Evensongs and large choral works every year. The program also includes a legendary children's choir training program which follows Royal School of Church music standards and has 50 children ages 7-17 singing every week at three different levels.
"I need them both,” she said. “They’ve both been a place for me to grow and grow the programs.”
Her two daughters and husband Jabez Van Cleef are all active in music, as well. Grace, who is 14, sings in the choir and Virginia, who is 25, sang in both Harmonium and the church programs.
As she looks to the future, she plans to continue to doing both jobs as long as they remain fun, she said. While she grew up loving to sing, her passion for conducting has filled her life and singing became more of a hobby, she said.
“You don’t think about it,” she said. “You just start doing your life and all of a sudden you realize it's 25 years,” she said.
To see one of the Harmonium Choir’s performances click here .be">.be