Sean Boulware, left, as Jean Valjean opposite Rob Devlin as his tormentor, Inspector Javert, in the 2013 MPC Theatre Company production of Les Miserables. Photo by Richard Barnard
By Scott MacClelland
FOR ITS FIRST SEASONAL OFFERING, Sean Boulware’s Aria Women’s Chorus joins David Dally’s MPC String Ensemble this weekend for two performances, in Monterey and Pacific Grove, of a mixed program of rare pieces selected from across four centuries of music, including many gems not heard in this area before. The strings and chorus will join for several and take some individually. (Their additional guests are pianist Philip Calder and hornist John Orzel.)
For this occasion, Boulware selected Aria, the group he rehearses on Tuesday nights. “Aria was created to give women a better chance to do better music, and more of it,” he explains, citing the disproportion of women to men in mixed choirs locally.
Had he an opportunity to direct a chorus in a symphonic context, he would choose his Monterey Peninsula Voices, a large non-auditioned chorus he rehearses Monday nights and which will sing John Rutter’s Magnificat, with orchestra, this holiday season. “Next year we’ll be doing a 1940s popular retrospective with Paul Contos’ big band.”
On Wednesdays after the New Year he will restart Urban Renewal, his 30-voice mixed jazz choir which also breaks into small combos.
On Thursdays, Boulware rehearses Pacific Voices, a nearly 80-member community chorus in Santa Cruz that, like Santa Cruz itself, loves to celebrate life and love with affirmative upbeat vocal content. “I lovingly call them my hippy choir,” he says. They choose “a lot of world music, from India, Africa, and with plenty of percussion. They’ve existed for 20 years; I’ve been with them for two.”
Michelle and Sean were married in 2000 after studying at CSU Long Beach. They came to the Monterey Peninsula in 2006 when Sean became music director at Carmel Presbyterian Church. “When that position ended in 2011, I went into self-sustaining mode,” he says. But in coming to the Monterey Peninsula the Boulwares brought worldwide connections with them.
Today, Michelle is Director of Choral Activities at Salinas High School, co-directs the choir at Pacific Grove High and directs the musical theater program there and at PG Middle School. Last year she founded the Monarch Youth Chorus in Monterey. She is pursuing her Master’s at Boston University. She has performed as soloist and conductor in Europe, Canada, Great Britain and Ireland.
Sean conducts choirs and orchestras regularly at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. He has also done so and conducted seminars in England, Scotland, Ireland, Austria, The Netherlands, Germany, Greece, Brazil, and Japan. As a vocalist, he has appeared with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, New Jersey Symphony, Los Angeles Renaissance Consort among others. He has toured nationally with productions of Les Miserables and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and has performed locally with several other groups, including I Cantori di Carmel. He has both directed and performed in local theater productions. The list of his miscellany of pop choirs and jazz choirs over the years is long.
Sean has prepared choruses for conductors including John Alexander, Keith Lockhart and John Rutter. He has also prepared choirs to sing with Josh Groban, Michael McDonald, Tommy Simms and Keith and Kristyn Getty, with Michelle singing in them.
Sean took his Doctorate at the University of Southern California. He conducted choirs at Hyde Park and Westminster Abbey during the 2012 Olympics in London. He did a two-year intensive research program at Oxford University and was awarded a Doctor of Philosophy. While there he was part of a team, directed by David Skinner, who stumbled upon the personal songbook of Anne Boleyn for the first time since her execution in 1536, and which has been revived frequently by choirs there.
“I love to tour, travel, and take groups wherever we can,” he says. He’ll take a California Central Coast chorale to sing the Mozart Requiem with the Vienna Philharmonic during an 11-day excursion next July. Then on to Budapest and Prague “for two or three more concerts.” All of this activity requires an extraordinary amount of disciplined planning. “I have to make time for my family,” he says. “Daytime I spend doing office work. My choirs here have rotating time off. After this weekend, Aria will be off until January. That opens up holes for other projects. Sleep is optional.”
“I swore I would never marry another conductor,” he says. “But we don’t compete; Michelle does the more educational side, I do the more professional performance side. She totally gets me. Now I can’t imagine not being married to a conductor.”
“The San Francisco Conservatory is preparing to launch a new doctoral, conducting choral program. A few conductors have been engaged for it,” Sean says. It will be an outreach to the greater community. “In it, my focus will be strictly on teaching and conducting.” The program will bring the Conservatory out of San Francisco, to San Jose, “and, for me, to my home, giving me the ability to teach on a more advanced level.”
Philosophically, Sean Boulware is a true believer in choral singing. “There are so many groups to sing with on the Peninsula, I hope people take the plunge to sing somewhere. Sal Ferrantelli and John Koza and Robin McKee Williams and Todd Samra and Abby Warburg and Leroy Kromm and Connie Fortunato are the best and brightest of conductors with huge hearts,” he says. “They have such great choirs and opportunities for people to sing and bring joy to the community by lifting their voices. Whether they want to just try it out with a non-auditioned group or develop their chops and use advanced techniques with an auditioned group, singing is the thing!”