Pro Arte Singers chamber music group sings its last note
NEW CANAAN — Twenty-six voices build in unison to a thundering crescendo accompanied by the English horn and the organ. The conductor’s hand rises and rises until it turns into a fist and in a swift, cutting motion, it silences all. It takes several second for the silence to settle.
That conductor is Arthur Sjogren, or Art, as he’s affectionately called. The son of a choir director, Sjogren began singing soprano at the age of 6 and choir has remained a lifelong passion ever since.
The 76-year old Redding native founded the Pro Arte Singers, a chamber music group, in 1972.
“There was no professional organization in this area,” Sjogren said. “During that time, I was singing in New York professionally and commuting there so I decided to start a small group out here and it grew. Now, people commute here as most of the singers are from New York City.”
When asked if any of the original members who joined Pro Arte were still in the group, Sjogren joked, “no, they would be too old.”
Although their P.O. box is in Stamford, the Pro Arte Singers are based mostly in New Canaan and the First Presbyterian Church in New Canaan served as their home for the past 20 years. Appropriately, the First Presbyterian Church also served as the site for their final performance last Saturday evening.
“I’m going to miss being able to do music on this level,” Sjogren said. “Being with professionals is something else, as a lot of our music is very complicated. We sing in Estonian, Polish and Latin and I coach all the Scandinavian languages.”
A professional choir, all members of Pro Arte boasted advanced music degrees and the majority were full-time choir singers in New York City.
“I’ve been singing for a long time and almost 10 years with Art,” said John Rose, who commuted from New York City for practice.
Rose was not the only member of the group to express respect for Sjogren’s work and sadness at the end of Pro Arte.
Even after the final performance, Ellen Taylor-Sisson plans to continue her singing as an active freelancer in New York City. The New Canaan resident joined the group in 1992. Paul An, who recently moved to New Jersey from New York City, has similar plans.
“I do a lot of choir stuff in New York City and I’ll be resuming my freelancing after the (final) performance,” said An, an active freelancer chorist before he was hired by Sjogren in 2010.
Over the years, financial backing for the group was partially thanks to the Craig B. Tate Foundation.
Three members of the Tate family studied under Sjogren during his 34-year tenure as the director of vocal music at New Canaan High School, a position he took shortly after founding Pro Arte. Sjogren built up the high school program, eventually forming a smaller group, the Madrigal Ensemble, that toured around the world.
Although Sjogren — and his chamber music group — is retiring, he left his mark on New Canaan and the wider community with Pro Arte recordings played on the NPR radio program “Performance Today” and a 1990 Connecticut Public Television documentary.
Boyd Schlaefer has been a friend of Sjogren since the 1980s. “I’m sad but it’s great he gets to retire,” said Boyd Schlaefer, a friend of Sjogren’s since the 1980s. “This group has been a great outlet for us singers. Art has put together some wonderful programs.”