It is no surprise that members of the Columbia Pro Cantare are skilled singers, but this weekend some will be showing off other talents.
On Saturday, at the first concert of the chorus' 32nd season, the group will hold a silent auction that will include paintings, quilts and photographs created by the singers, along with items donated by supporters in the community.
"I'm glad that I am able to contribute something," said chorus member Joseph Murray of Columbia, who is providing a photo he took of the lakefront statue of James W. Rouse and his brother on a snowy day.
"The auctions are critical," Murray said. "Every year, it is a challenge to get sufficient funding."
While nonprofit arts groups have always needed to focus on fundraising, founder and director Frances Motyca Dawson said tough economic times have made it even more challenging for the Pro Cantare to plan the kind of concerts it would like.
The chorus has been based out of Dawson's home since 1977, when she formed the volunteer group to sing with the Baltimore Symphony at its concerts in Howard County. Over three decades, the Pro Cantare has performed a wide range of choral music from diverse cultures, appeared throughout the Baltimore and Washington areas as well as on tours abroad, and offered world and U.S premieres of choral works.
Now, she said, "every day it is another piece of news that makes it hard to think about another season."
The chorus seeks financial support to stage concerts such as Saturday's performance of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, which will use a large orchestra, two professional soloists and the Peabody Children's Chorus.
Those elements "add a lot of drama to it and color," Dawson said.
The piece, based on early 13th-century poems found in a Benedictine monastery in Germany, covers an array of themes, including life, spring, drinking and gluttony, lust, and an appeal to Lady Luck. It is familiar to many because its dramatic chanting voices have been used or imitated in numerous movie trailers and advertisements.
Dawson said it is a staple of large choral societies.
"It appeals to just about everyone,' she said. "It goes straight to the emotion. It is a very direct type of music."
Next up is the Pro Cantare's annual performance of Handel's Messiah and a Christmas performance with the chorus' smaller chamber group, both in December.
In March, the chorus will perform Brahms' Ein Deutches Requiem at Church of the Redeemer in Baltimore led by the church's director of traditional music, Henry Lowe. Singing that piece in a church was once an annual tradition for the Pro Cantare, Dawson said, and she is pleased to revive it.
"There is music you can sometimes do in a church that doesn't work as well in a concert hall," she said, noting Church of the Redeemer's fine acoustics and organ. "It is wonderful to sing in a space that suits the music."
The season will conclude with "A Tribute to Paul Robeson," which will feature one of the Pro Cantare's regular professional soloists, Lester Lynch, singing folk songs, show tunes and other works made famous by the noted actor, singer and activitst.
Dawson said the use of accomplished soloists and musicians helps the Pro Cantare compete for audiences with professional companies in nearby cities, and inspires the amateurs in the group to rise to a higher level.
In the future, she said, the chorus' leadership will have to consider smaller musical ensembles and other ways to cut its budget.
In the meantime, chorus members have high hopes that the auction will be a way to raise awareness and money with the added benefit of highlighting some of the singers' other talents.
"You find out over time people have some interesting other lives," said Tom Lorsung of his fellow chorus members. "We just all have different kinds of creative outlets."
Lorsung, who divides his time between Columbia and Cambridge, has been a member of the Pro Cantare since its early years. Since retiring from a career as an editor at Catholic News Service, he has been photographing birds and other nature scenes on the Eastern Shore. He donated two of his photographs to the auction.
"It's a way of contributing something," he said, as well as a nice opportunity to get some exposure for his work.
Murray, who is director of community relations for Ascend One, a financial services corporation, and volunteers with several community organizations, said it takes a big effort to keep the chorus going.
"It works when everyone helps," he said.
The silent auction, which will include light refreshments, is to begin at 6 p.m. Saturday at Jim Rouse Theatre, 5460 Trumpeter Road, Columbia. The Pro Cantare's performance of Carmina Burana begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are $22 for senior citizens and students and $25 for other patrons at the door. There is a $2 discount if tickets are purchased in advance. Information: www.procantare.org or 410-799-9321.
THE 2008-2009 SEASON
Saturday: Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, 8 p.m., Jim Rouse Theatre, Columbia.
Dec. 7: Handel's Messiah, 7:30 p.m., Jim Rouse Theatre, Columbia. Free preconcert lecture at 6:30 p.m. and reception after the performance.
Dec. 14: A Christmas Noel with the CPC Chamber Singers, 3 p.m., Christ Episcopal Church, Columbia.
March 29, 2009 : Brahms' Ein Deutches Requiem, 4 p.m., Church of the Redeemer, Baltimore. No tickets required, donations welcomed.
May 2, 2009: A Tribute to Paul Robeson, 8 p.m., Jim Rouse Theatre, Columbia.