The Sacramento Master Singers (SMS) have been advancing the art of choral music in Northern California and beyond since 1982. Our goal: to delight, challenge and inspire audiences with choral premieres, new arrangements of classic songs, and visually engaging performances. We also tour national and internationally, most recently in Scotland in 2015. SMS draws from an enormous variety of musical periods and styles — no two concerts are ever the same.
The Sacramento Master Singers was incorporated in 1983 after performing for many years under other names including the Camellia Concert Chorale. In the early 80s, founding director Ken Winter, admired for his passionate interpretations and extensive knowledge of choral literature, sought to form a new, auditioned choir of carefully selected singers who would focus on expert performances of choral music. For a time, the group performed as the Camellia Concert Chorale among other names. Eventually, The Sacramento Master Singers was chosen to better reflect its ties to the state capital and the region the ensemble serves. The original articles of incorporation make it clear that Winter established a high standard under which SMS still operate today – “The Sacramento Master Singers will have as its purpose, the practice and performance of choral music, with a high degree of excellence, for the educational and musical benefit of the community at large as well as the membership.”
SMS’ first performance under this name in the spring of 1984 at Northminster Presbyterian Church included just 14 singers. Among them were current members Carol McCormick and Ralph Hughes. The choir is indebted to Ken and those 14 founding members for the vision they shared in establishing this choir that so many have grown to love and admire.
In the fall of 1986, Ralph Hughes became the conductor of the Sacramento Master Singers. The choir at that time was small – with a budget and audience to match. Under Hughes’ leadership, the choir’s membership increased in number and quality, establishing the group as an esteemed member of the Sacramento arts community
One strength of SMS is its unusual board. The members of the Executive Board are selected from the ensemble itself. In addition to those who have provided leadership on the board, the choir has benefited by its superb section leaders, publicists, librarians, and other champions of the Sacramento Master Singers brand, all of whom have been selected from current membership. The strength of the choir is derived from the collective effort and dedication of its members.
The choir has been blessed over the years with wonderful accompanists! Lew Schwenk sang baritone and played for SMS concerts and rehearsals in the early 1980s. In 1988, Diana Ridenour Tudsbury became the accompanist for the choir; she can be heard on our earliest CDs. Next, we were blessed with Linda Dawson as both our accompanist and frequent arranger in the 1990s. We were the first choir to create a ‘sing along’ Christmas recording for Piano Disc.
Linda’s lush arrangements and dexterity on the keyboard have made this Christmas recording one of Piano Disc’s most popular ever for player pianos.
Talented Clifford Shockney became SMS’ accompanist about 2000 for roughly a decade. Many have enjoyed his fabulous piano skills as the choir’s accompanist and while the group performed one of his original compositions or arrangements. Also, he partnered with Richard Glazier for a Gershwin/Arlen concert by the Sacramento Master Singers. Cliff penned If Music Be the Food of Love for our 2007 – 2008 season and set the poem Incarnation by former member Joe Ossmann, to great effect, for our holiday concerts in 2009.
Other FIRSTS and HIGHLIGHTS? For starters, the ensemble was the first choir in Sacramento to have a website. The late John Crowell, a former bass and choral librarian, anticipated this need. He snagged the domain name mastersingers.org for SMS. The choir’s first compact disc How Still He Rests was released in 1994, and was subsequently named as one of KXPR’s ‘Top 10 Holiday CD’s.’ SMS is proud to offer nine compact discs in its catalog now.
In 1990, Hughes and his choir switched venues from the suburbs to downtown Sacramento locations. Audience size blossomed. Today, the choir is thrilled to perform in some of the loveliest churches and concert halls in the city. SMS is grateful to the congregations of St. Francis Church, Saint Mary’s Church, the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, Fremont Presbyterian Church, Westminster Presbyterian Church, First United Methodist Church and other area churches for graciously allowing the choir to sing in their sanctuaries. SMS has also performed in the Library Galleria, the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium, and Crest Theater to capacity crowds. Since 2010, a concert or two each year in Harris Center on the campus of Folsom Lake College has been added to the season, but the majority of concerts are performed in the heart of downtown Sacramento.
In addition to gaining the respect of a growing audience base, Sacramento Master Singers has frequently received rave reviews from area critics and support by local foundations — the choir is appreciative of the support of the arts provided by KXPR/KXJZ Public Radio, Sacramento Magazine, Sacramento News and Review, area news stations, Sacramento Valley Choral Coalition, and the Sacramento Bee. SMS deeply appreciates the support of its patrons—without them programming would be less adventurous and impact on area youth and schools lessened. The support of arts foundations such as the National Endowment for the Arts, Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission, Sacramento Regional Community Foundation, California Arts Council, Sacramento Bee, Raley’s, and others have allowed for stable operations and supported the choir’s mission. It’s a source of pride that the ensemble has remained fiscally responsible while also contributing to the well-being of the arts community. It is the practice of SMS to hire local instrumentalists, dancers, and guest artists.
SMS has performed numerous area and West Coast premieres of significant choral works including Benjamin Britten’s AMDG, the Robert Levin completion of Mozart’s Requiem, Alfred Schnittke’s Requiem. Redford’s Welcome All Wonders, two commissioned works by Ralph Prime, and numerous pieces by Alberto Grau, including his Kasar Mie La Gaji. The choir commissioned Elements by LA composer David O, several arrangements and original songs by Clifford Shockney and Linda Dawson. To mark Dr. Hughes’ 30th year as director of the choir, the board commissioned Larry Shackley of South Carolina, Dr. Jared Pierce (a former bass with SMS) of Utah, and Ken Medema of Michigan to create pieces in his honor in 2016. Poetry by local Sacramentans James DenBoer – The Concert, Sally Worthing – Sacramento, Gilda Taffet – Finale and Elli Johnston – Look to Where the Rivers Meet (Johnson is also a soprano with SMS) was set by Shackley and Medema. Pierce’s work, The Larger Prayer, utilized a poem by deceased poet Ednah Dow Cheney.
In 1994, the Sacramento Masters Singers sang as a headliner group at the American Choral Directors Association Western Division Convention. Another significant event was our appearance with the Boston Pops when they began their annual West Coast tours back in 1996—what a blast to sing for 14,000 in Arco Arena! In 2000, at the invitation of internationally renowned conductor Maria Guinand, SMS represented the US at the multi-national America Cantat Festival in Caracas, Venezuela. Also, the choir sang Hughes’s doctoral recital at the University of South Carolina and toured the Carolinas in 2002. By invitation of Celia Canty of University of Hawaii in Maui in 2007, the singers toured in Hawaii where they performed at Hawaii’s oldest church among other venues. Dr. Hughes and the choir performed in February 2012 in Reno at the American Choral Director’s Association Western Division Conference. Ralph and the choristers traveled to Scotland for a collaborative concert with the Stonehaven Chorus in Stonehaven near Aberdeen, a workshop with composer Sir James MacMillan in Glasgow, and a noon concert at St. Gile’s Cathedral on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh plus some touring in June of 2015.
Sacramento Master Singers has collaborated numerous times with Mary Youngblood, Native American flutist, who won Grammies twice, in 2003 and 2007, for solo instrumental work. In 2000, the Sacramento Master Singers were conducted by Joseph Jennings, just the week after he won a Grammy for his work with Chanticleer. Maria Guinand of Venezuela conducted the choir in 1998 and two years later was nominated for best classical choral recording.
SMS is proud to have linked hands with numerous area artists and arts groups. Collaborations with the Sacramento Philharmonic Orchestra, the Sacramento Children’s Chorus under Lynn Stevens, Linda Goodrich and the Sacramento/Black Art of Dance, James Wheatley and Celebration Arts, the Camellia Symphony, Sacramento State Percussion Group under Daniel Kennedy, Timm Rolek of Sacramento Opera, Distant Oaks, American River College Choirs, Richard Glazier, Folsom Symphony, the Boston Pops, and many more have made us stronger and deepened our understanding of the arts community. Guest Directors Maria Guinand, Moses Hogan, Joe Jennings, Vance George, Alice Parker, and Oscar Escalada have broadened our outlook to include new styles of music and fresh insights on music long cherished.
Thank you for your support throughout the history of Sacramento Master Singers. The choir looks forward to seeing you frequently at future concerts.
Asya Pleskach was a 2002 Cordova High School graduate who performed and toured with the Sacramento Master Singers while still in her teens. A talented and promising young vocalist, she had just begun her music studies at American River College when a car accident claimed her life at the age of 18. After Asya and her family immigrated to the United States in the mid-90’s, she began singing in the Bethany Slavic Missionary Church choir and in the Cordova High School Choral program. She also spent two summers at the prestigious Young Musicians Program at UC Berkeley and had recently sung in the opera chorus at Capitol Opera Sacramento. To honor her memory and encourage other young singers, the Sacramento Master Singers have established the Asya Pleskach Memorial Scholarship for Young Choral Singers.
To honor her memory and encourage other young singers, the Sacramento Master Singers established the Asya Pleskach Memorial Scholarship for Young Choral Singers in 2003. With our donors’ ongoing support, we have been able to award almost $20,000 to talented and dedicated young singers in the greater Sacramento area.
Please visit this site for spring dates!
Winners of the Asya Pleskach Memorial Scholarship for Young Choral Singers 2018:
Category 1: Age 14-16
1st place: Claudia Peri, Holmes Jr.High
2nd place & Commendation Award: Alexandra Paperno, Granite Bay HS
3rd place: Andrea Leung, Davis Senior HS,
Category 2: Age 17-19
1st place: Nicole Young, St Francis HS
2nd place & Commendation Award: Justise Wattree, Granite Bay HS
3rd place: Kirsten Bastin, Davis HS
Category 3: Age 20-22
1st place: Shelley Foster, University of California, Davis
2nd place: Mira Huang, University of California, Davis
In a group that included friends and family, about 2/3rds of the choir visited Scotland in late June 2016. Musical experiences included a collaboration concert with Stonehaven Chorus from Stonehaven near Aberdeen, a workshop with composer Sir James MacMillan, and a noon concert in St. Giles’ Cathedral on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. The trip included visits to Stirling Castle; the Wallace Monument; Culross, an old, well-preserved village on the banks of the Forth River; Loch Lomand; the city of Perth, and Glengoyne Distillery. Most of our group participated in a ceilidh, a traditional dance party, led by a 3-piece group consisting of a fiddler, guitarist and keyboardist.
SMS headed to Hawaii in 2007 to participate in Celia Canty, of the University of Hawaii in Maui, extended an invitation to SMS to sing.
As a part of Ralph’s doctoral degree in Choral Conducting from the University of South Carolina, the choir traveled to the Carolinas.
With an invitation from internationally famous conductor Maria Guinand, Ralph Hughes and the majority of the choir journeyed to Venezuela to participate in the Americas Cantat Choral Festival in Caracas, Venezuela.