Sunday, May 16, 2021 at 4:00 pm

A Virtual Community Sing with Dr. Tony Thornton


Abbie Betinis, Jake Runestad, David Maddux, Rosephanye Powell, Craig Hella Johnson (from Considering Matthew Shepard), and Ysaye Barnwell

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

2020 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 Phil Stoddard 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.

2020-21 Concert Season

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."

Although live performances will not be possible until singers and audiences can safely gather together, Illuminati is making plans for internet-based musical experiences in the near term and for live concerts once they are able to safely resume. We are happy to announce our next event. On Sunday, May 16, 2021 at 4:00 pm, Dr. Tony Thornton will lead a virtual community sing of Brahms' Ein deutsches Requiem.

While rooted in words of devotion, the German Requiem employs contemplative, universal language to appeal across religious and denominational boundaries, coming from a background of faith rather than a specific church. As for the title, which refers more to the text than to any intended audience, Brahms wrote, I would gladly give up the German and simply put human. He purposely omitted references to the redemptive resurrection of Jesus, taking verses from the Psalms and the book of Isaiah from the Old Testament; sections of the Apocrypha; and the letters of Paul, the Gospels of Matthew and John, and the book of Revelation in the New Testament.

Brahms sought reminders of life as a fragile, transient miracle in phrases like all flesh is as grass… The grass withers, and the flower falls away. His text embodies an untroubled acceptance of mortality – Lord, make me to know my end, and the measure of my days…that I may know how frail I am – yet remains filled with energy and a vivid understanding of the inevitable cycle of mortality, as in the fourth movement: O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

—Katrina Becker, Phoenix Chorale

If you are a singer, we invite you to join us. Please register by 10 AM, Sunday May 16.

Reserve A Space


“I cannot count the number of times someone has asked me this question: If you were stranded on an island and you could only bring one piece of music with you, which piece would you bring? My immediate answer is Ein deutsches Requiem by Johannes Brahms. Then I usually follow up with questions about how I came to be stranded in the first place. Would a score magically appear on the island? As much as I love the work, I do not carry a copy of the score everywhere I go. I do carry it in my heart, however.

As a singer, my first experience with the requiem was under Robert Shaw's direction. I immediately fell in love with all the colors inherent in the text, which was chosen by Brahms. While many of the texts in a single movement are from different books of the Luther Bible, it is as if they belong together. This is truly remarkable.

Ein deutsches Requiem is special to me for another reason. It is the first major work that I conducted in the Pioneer Valley. Brit Albritton asked me to conduct the piece in 2011 as a fundraising event for the Red Cross, to aid those impacted by the tornado that devastated areas of Western MA in June of that year. Members of the choir consisted of the UMass Chamber Choir and a number of singers who would later become founding members of Illuminati Vocal Arts Ensemble.

The message of hope and comfort found in this great work finds its way into the inner recesses of the heart. It is certainly the piece I'd think about first on that island!”
— Tony Thornton

You can download a free copy of the score (Peters edition) at

Here are excellent program notes written for the New York Philharmonic by James M. Keller.



Outstanding contemporary choral music celebrating love in all of its diversity, with music by Abbie Betinis, Jake Runestad, David Maddux, Rosephanye Powell, Craig Hella Johnson (“All of Us” from Considering Matthew Shepard), and Ysaye Barnwell.


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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STARLIGHT ($250-$499)

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For inquiries, please email