Saturday, March 26 at 7:00 PM
St. John's Church, Northampton


Fauré Requiem and Vaughan Williams Five Mystical Songs

Saturday, June 11, 2022, 7 PM
Grace Church, Amherst

A farewell concert for Dr. Tony Thornton
featuring Morten Lauridsen's Lux Aeterna

About Illuminati

Tony Thornton began Illuminati Vocal Arts Ensemble in the fall of 2013, with a mission to create a professional-caliber vocal arts ensemble with the heart and dedication of an amateur chorus. Dr. Thornton is well acquainted with professional ensembles, as you can see from his biography.

The Illuminati Vocal Arts Ensemble is beginning to realize Tony’s vision. A unique chamber chorus, we draw our volunteer singers from throughout Massachusetts and beyond. We have received rave reviews from audiences and newspapers, and have earned the respect of area cultural institutions.

The ensemble performs choral miniatures and masterworks from all periods and styles, and collaborates with other community/professional organizations.

“Performances at the level of Illuminati's give the listener a clear window into the composer's soul.” - Clifton Noble Jr, The Republican, Oct. 15, 2016

2022 Board of Directors
Manuel Andrade,
Shirley Griffin,
Sarah Metcalf,
Past President
Anisa Schardl,
Katrina Turner,
Chorus Liaison
William Albritton,
Graphics and Web
Dr. Tony Thornton,
Artistic Director(ex officio)
Members at Large
Saxon Elliott Willow Elise Volante
American Prize for Choral Excellence

Third Place Winner, 2019-20 American Prize for Choral Excellence
a national juried choral competition

About Tony Thornton

Active as a conductor, educator, clinician, and author, Tony Thornton received his Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education and Voice from Westminster Choir College, a Master of Music degree in Choral Conducting from Louisiana State University, and his Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Choral Conducting and Historical Musicology from the University of Arizona. He studied conducting with Joseph Flummerfelt, Kenneth Fulton, Frauke Haasemann, Margaret Hillis, Bruce Chamberlain, and Donald Neuen.

Trained first as a singer, Dr. Thornton has performed as a tenor soloist throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia. As a member of the Westminster Choir, he performed at the Spoleto Festival in Italy and the United States, and he has recorded with Leonard Bernstein, Riccardo Muti, Robert Shaw, Claudio Abbado, and Zubin Mehta. He sang for seven years as a member of the Grammy Award-winning Robert Shaw Festival Singers.

As a guest conductor and clinician who is active on the national and international choral scene, Dr. Thornton has worked with over 300 women’s, men’s, and mixed choruses in public schools, colleges, churches, community, and professional organizations in 24 states, Japan, and throughout Europe.

Dr. Thornton is the author of The Choral Singer’s Survival Guide ( and he maintains a choral series in his name at Colla Voce Music. He is currently Director of Choral Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he oversees an extensive choral program, guides the graduate program in choral conducting, and serves as Director of the Choral Area for the UMass Summer Conducting Institute. He is the Founding Artistic Director of Illuminati Vocal Arts Ensemble.

Dr. Thornton holds active memberships in the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA), Chorus America, International Federation for Choral Music (IFCM), National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS), and the National Collegiate Choral Organization (NCCO). He is President of the Massachusetts chapter of the American Choral Directors Association.

About Sarah Ehle

Sarah Ehle received her Bachelor’s degree in Piano Performance from Wheaton College, and her Master’s degree in Collaborative Piano from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her experience includes working with choirs as well as collaborating with musicians of almost every instrument, working as rehearsal pianist for a student opera program, and playing for several student musical theatre revues.

Ms. Ehle is on staff at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she works with the UMass Chamber Choir and several studios. She also accompanies Suzuki group classes at the Northampton Community Music School, and has worked as a staff accompanist at the Hartt School of Music in Connecticut.

Spring 2022 Concerts

Music has the power to move and inspire, to tell important stories, and to bring communities together. The Illuminati Vocal Arts Ensemble performs choral pieces and masterworks from all periods and styles, often in collaboration with other musical organizations throughout the Pioneer Valley. Our sold-out concerts attract a discerning audience that shares a passion for performance at the highest level. Noted pianist, composer and music reviewer Clifton Noble, Jr., recently complimented us as "the Valley's finest chorus," and Tony Thornton as a conductor who "makes magic with music."

Illuminati Vocal Arts Ensemble's return to live public performance, Darkness into Light, took place on Saturday, March 26 at 7:00 PM, at St. John's Episcopal Church, 48 Elm St, Northampton. We were so grateful to sing for you again.

The concert was sold-out, and the audience was very generous with their applause.

We will stream a virtual encore performance on April 3 at 7:00 PM. An invitation to the stream was included in the ticket price, and a link will be emailed to you no later than the end of day Friday, April 1. For those who did not purchase a ticket to see the concert in person, a virtual ticket is available.

Our program features two profoundly religious works by avowed agnostics, Gabriel Fauré's Requiem in D minor, and Ralph Vaughan Williams' Five Mystical Songs. The former is an idiosyncratic setting of the Catholic Mass for the Dead, and the latter sets a series of poems by the deeply-pious seventeenth-century Anglican priest George Herbert. The sentiments they express transcend doctrine; their music offers meaning in dark times.

The Fauré Requiem... was a set work for A-level and I took myself along to a local amateur performance to get to know it better. I remember experiencing an uncanny feeling that it would be a dear friend and companion on my life’s journey (it is). To this day tears come to my eyes when I conduct the In paradisum.

—John Rutter, Anthologising: Sacred Choruses, posted October 29, 2018

Five Mystical Songs is, for this writer, one of those Vaughan Williams works that, when 1 play it, makes me feel like rushing into the street and dragging complete strangers into the living room and not letting them go until they admit that I got me flowers and Love bade me welcome are the most beautiful things they have ever heard.

—Stephen Connock, Journal of the RVW Society, No. 7, February 2000, p. 13

Fauré famously wrote of the Requiem in D minor: "Everything I managed to entertain by way of religious illusion I put into my Requiem, which moreover is dominated from beginning to end by a very human feeling of faith in eternal rest." (Steinberg, Michael, "Gabriel Fauré: Requiem, Op. 48," in Choral Masterworks: A Listener's Guide, Oxford University Press. pp. 131–137.)

Vaughan Williams' wife Ursula described his religious feelings similarly: "He was an atheist during his later years at Charterhouse and Cambridge, though he later drifted into a cheerful agnosticism: he was never a professing Christian." (Ursula Vaughan Williams, R.V.W.: A Biography of Ralph Vaughan Williams Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 29.)

It is a testament to the power of choral music that these works transport the believer and non-believer alike to a place of profound reverence. They are a meditation on our fragility, humanity and solidarity.

“To walk in the evergreen forests and along the waterways of the Pacific Northwest, as Morten Lauridsen loves to do, is to experience infinite variations of light. Clouds of gray loom in the skies, and deft rays of sunlight filter through the trees and touch on water with an ever-changing chiaroscuro effect. Walking here with poetry in his mind and music in his heart, Lauridsen finds inspiration for his compositions, luminous with inner radiance.

Lauridsen composed the requiem Lux Aeterna in 1997, the year his mother died. She was the “muse” who introduced him to music, playing swing jazz and singing to him as a toddler. She also taught him to play the piano. The consolation for grief offered by Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna is often compared to that of Fauré’s Requiem and Brahms’s Ein Deutsches Requiem, both works inspired by the deaths of the composers’ mothers. These works also have in common a deceptive simplicity, yet their capacity to touch the listener reveals mastery at expressing through music the depth of human emotion.”

—Carol Talbeck, San Francisco Choral Society

Our last concert of the 2021-22 season, will be our final concert with Dr. Tony Thornton. Tony is leaving the area to join the faculty of the prestigious Michael and Anne Greenwood School of Music at Oklahoma State University, as Director of Choral and Vocal Studies and the Doug and Nickie Burns Endowed Chair in Choral Music.

Because this will be his final concert with us, Tony has decided to tweak the repertoire and theme. The new program, “This Shining Night.” will explore favorite pieces from Tony's time as our Founding Artistic Director.

I first had the privilege of working with Tony in 2011. After a record-breaking year of natural disasters, Tony and I collaborated on a benefit for the Red Cross; a performance of the piano four-hands “London” version of the Brahms Requiem. We had barely begun rehearsing when New England was blanketed by a historic October blizzard, which left 830,000 without power, many for over a week. When the region finally dug out and power was restored, we went ahead with a November performance at Sweeney Concert Hall, Smith College. Tony’s artistic sensitivity, clarity, grace and efficiency under a dramatically shortened rehearsal schedule were truly compelling. He was clearly a world-class conductor, and deserved the enthusiastic response from audience and chorus.

Tony, my partner Sarah Metcalf and I decided to form a standing choral group. After tossing around various names, Tony became enchanted with “Illuminati,” after its original, non-conspiratorial meaning “bringers of light.” I designed a logo, and we began holding auditions in the summer of 2013. We planned another benefit, this time for the Sidney Smith Toy Fund of the Daily Hampshire Gazette. Ironically, a blizzard swept through the region, and we were forced to cancel.

Our first concert together as Illuminati Vocal Arts Ensemble was Sunday, March 9, 2014 at St. John's Episcopal Church, Northampton. It featured Benjamin Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb, and Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna, the centerpiece of the program we will perform for Tony’s farewell.

It's hard to believe that more than eight years have passed since that first concert. Tony's passion, sensitivity, musicality and care has brought light to those of us lucky enough to sing with him. We will miss him terribly, but expect great things. Illuminati Vocal Arts Ensemble, the group he helped form and thoroughly shaped, will continue. Stay tuned.

—William Albritton

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Amherst Cultural Council, a local agency which is supported by the Mass Cultural Council, a state agency.


Entrance into the ensemble is by audition only (see audition process below). Dr. Thornton seeks singers with considerable choral experience. While perfect sight reading is not required, all singers must fully prepare repertoire before the first rehearsal. Illuminati makes music from the beginning.

Dr. Thornton is building an ensemble with a beautiful, communicative sound: tall, warm, vibrant, and round vowels; a wide dynamic palette; an inner rhythmic drive; and in-tune and balanced resonance. In the soprano section he is looking for lyric, energized purity; in the alto section a rich, full sound; in the tenor section a lyric, high/forward, yet warm sound; and in the bass section a rich baritone sound with forward placement that is not overly dark.

If you are interested, please complete the form here and we will email you an audition confirmation with possible times when auditions reopen.

Audition Process:
The audition takes approximately ten minutes. Singers will be asked to perform scales using a variety of articulations (legato, staccato, and marcato) and dynamics to demonstrate color, range, quality, and flexibility. A segment of the audition will emphasize sight-reading and tonal memory (with accompaniment). Finally, each singer will be asked to prepare a section from a work of Dr. Thornton's choice, which will be provided well in advance.

If you have any questions, please email

Founding Donors


Sarah Boy
Greg Brown & Mary Hubbell
Bruce & Wendy Durfee
Chris Krueger & Jane Bryden
Annie Philips
Ellen Story

FIRELIGHT ($100-$249)

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