When three conductors and three choirs are needed to bring about a concert, it is clear that an extraordinary musical event is in store. That is what is happening with the Good Friday presentation of JS Bach's St. Matthew Passion at 19 Church Street, the former United Community Church in Cortland. Currently, Dr. Stephen Wilson is rehearsing the Choral Union; Marion Giambattista is working with the Arts at Grace Chorus and Ann Finamore is coaching the children's chorus. These groups will be joined by six guest soloists and two orchestras for the performance under the sole direction of Dr. Wilson on April 2. The work is the result of collaboration between The Arts at Grace concert series and SUNY Cortland's Department of Performing Arts.

"I am looking forward to the exquisite sound that will be heard in the venue at 19 Church Street," Wilson stated. "Directing the entire event that day will be the highlight of my career." In addition to teaching music theory at SUNY Cortland, Wilson conducts both the Choral Union and the College Singers. He is well-known regionally as an eclectic musician who is equally comfortable conducting a church choir or playing the keyboard with TheJazzHappensBand. "One of the most gratifying aspects of working with the Choral Union each semester is watching a group of college students, professors, staff, and community members (with a wide range of ages, professions, interests) become a unified whole," Wilson said. "Although most Choral Union singers are from the Cortland-Homer area, several drive from Ithaca weekly to participate. There are no auditions. Members join the group because they want to sing. Last fall was the first time the Choral Union concert was presented in the community. The concert at St. Mary's was excellent. The St. Matthew Passion is building on that success."

Assistant Conductor Marion Giambattista, is rehearsing the smaller Chorus II. She, too, is well-recognized regionally as a performer and teacher. After receiving a master's degree in vocal performance at Syracuse University, she taught chorus and voice at Cortland High School for a decade. Giambattista continues to sing in several groups. In addition she is an adjunct professor at SUNY Cortland and Cornell University. "I am delighted with Chorus II," she stated. "Each singer auditioned for a place in the group and is delighted to have been selected. Even after only one rehearsal, they already are a cohesive choir that sounds wonderful. Former colleagues and students are returning to Cortland from as far as Rochester and New York City just to participate. Others are from Cortland, Homer, Tully, Ithaca, and Syracuse. It's exciting that everyone who is making this event happen is from Central New York. All of the soloists are Central New Yorkers. That includes Connecticut resident Lianne Coble who grew up in Liverpool."

Children's Choir director Ann Finamore taught vocal music in the Cortland City School District for thirty-three years before retiring in 2006. She currently teaches private piano and voice lessons. "Fifteen elementary and junior high students from Cortland are in the children's choir," Finamore explained. "Each was recommended by his or her school music teacher. Most are in grades five through eight, but there is one first grader. Parker, Randall, Smith, St. Mary's elementary schools and the junior high school are represented." Finamore is enjoying working with a group of singing youngsters again because as a retiree she no longer has that opportunity. "The children's choir part is written perfectly for children's voices," she said. "In the sections where the children sing with the adults, the contrast between their angelic lines and what is sung by the adults will provide a remarkable contrast. Bach definitely knew what children could do and do well."

Giambattista noted that "a remarkable, almost magical, configuration of passion, skills and belief in the project converged to make presentation of the St. Matthew Passion a reality." While Finamore loves working with children's choirs, Giambattista loves the smaller adult-age choirs, and Wilson, who earned his doctorate in conducting, says it is his "special joy to conduct larger chorus and orchestras. I embrace the challenge of conducting a work of this scope."

The complete "St. Matthew Passion" will be performed in English on Good Friday, April 2 at 19 Church Street. Part One begins at 4 PM and Part Two starts at 7:15 PM after a dinner break. Although there is no charge for admission, voluntary contributions will be accepted gratefully.

During the one-and-one-half hour intermission between Parts One and Two, a light dinner will be available for $8.00 at Grace Episcopal Church, 13 Court Street, Cortland. To make dinner reservations email The Arts at Grace at or call Grace Episcopal Church 607-753-3073 from 9-3 M-F.

Major contributors to the "St. Matthew Passion" include the Wilkins Foundation, the New York State Arts Decentralization Grant Program, and the SUNY Cortland Department of Performing Arts.