Rheinland-Pfalz International Choir Chronicles
In December 1985, 50 American singers from the church choirs of the military communities in the U.S. Ramstein Air Base and Vogelweh came together. They were planning to perform Handel’s “Messiah” and were looking for additional singers to join the project.
The performance of the “Messiah” in 1985 had impressed representatives of the parish of St. Martin/Weinstraße. They invited the choir to perform at the dedication ceremony of its renovated church on Easter 1986. It was an evening to be remembered. The citizens of St. Martin were so impressed that they invited the choir to their next international music festival. In order to perform, however, the choir needed a more diverse repertoire which included international medleys of songs from Broadway, pop, country and western. This was the birth of the “Ramstein Community Choir”. Due to the presence of NATO troops in the area, not only Americans but also Canadians, English, French, Dutch and Germans joined as members. The choir performed at the German-American Friendship Week in Queidersbach and participated in the annual singing of the choirs at Christmas in Trippstadt. Other appearances were at the German-American Ball of Ramstein Air Force and the ball of the Bundeswehr in Trier. One of the most beautiful evenings was the musical salute on the occasion of the retirement of General Charles Donnelly, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe (USAFE). The choir sang with the U.S. Air Force Band in front of more than 1,250 invited guests from all over Europe at Ramstein Air Base.
In June 1987, Lt.Col. Herbert Meyer, who had led the choir until then, returned back to America. His successor, Maj. Craig Jessop, was the principal conductor of the U.S. Air Force in Europe. In the autumn of 1987 the choir performed the “Messiah” in Trippstadt. On Dec. 20th, the Ramstein Community Choir gave a Christmas concert with the USAFE Band in the St. Nicholas Church in Ramstein, which included a performance of the oratorio “Messiah” by Handel.
In the meantime, the choir had grown to 100 members from 6 nations. In January, the choir decided to change its name. “Rheinland-Pfalz International Choir” was intended by the members to express that the chorus feels at home in Rhineland-Palatinate and maintains international music, uniting members of all nationalities. The choir year is divided into two halves: a spring and a winter season. The winter season begins in early September and goes until mid-December. The spring season begins in mid-January to late June. The rehearsals are conducted on Tuesdays from 19:00 bis 21:30 hours in the rooms of the Faith Baptist Church in Kaiserslautern-Einsiedlerhof. The program for early 1988 includes performances on various occasions, such as Martin Luther King Day, the National Prayer Breakfast and the 17th Festival Air Force music festival in Sembach. In March, a performance was given to celebrate the 100th Birthday of American composer Irving Berlin with the USAFE band in Kaiserslautern. In May the choir performed at the opening of the German-American Friendship Week in the Fruchthalle in Kaiserslautern. In June, recordings of the “Requiem” by Andrew Lloyd Webber for radio and television were made, together with the Radio Orchestra of the SWR. Together with that orchestra, the Rheinland-Pfalz International Choir also performed during the Rhineland-Palatinate Music Festival in the Betzdorf City Hall. The concert included A.L. Webber’s “Requiem” and medleys of his musicals, as well as songs from “Hair”. A soloist of the concerts was the soprano Deborah Sesson, a member of the RPIC. The choir was led and directed by Craig D. Jessop at this concert.
In April, the U.S. Air Force Europe Band organized two shows at the Fruchthalle Kaiserslautern, “A Country Salute to America’s Heritage” and “Salute to German-American Friendship”, where the Rheinland-Pfalz International Choir participated with their own contributions. The highlight of the year was the participation of the choir in the celebrations of the 40th Anniversary of the Berlin Airlift on 13th and 14th of May in Berlin Tempelhof. Another highlight was U.S. President George Bush’s visit to Germany on 30th and 31th of May, during which he gave a speech in the Rheingoldhalle in Mainz. RPIC performed in the accompanying program and was explicitly mentioned in the presidential address. A performance entitled “Sing We Now of Christmas” took place in the period of Dec. 1st to 19th at the Ramstein community center, in Weilerbach at the Protestant Church and in the Fruchthalle Christmas concerts with the USAFE Band. All concerts were under the direction of Mr. Gregory Prudom, who was also the Commander of 76th Army Band in Kaiserslautern.
The choir year was marked by the usual “Messiah” concerts, as well as the start of a cooperation with the men’s choir of Weilerbach, which kindly offered its choir community building, Hüttengärten 6 in Weilerbach as a future rehearsal location for the RPIC. Together with the men’s choir Weilerbach a charity concert was held. The success was immense, and so we decided to repeat this every year.
For spring, we had planned a concert tour to Brandenburg, the twin city of Kaiserslautern and to Potsdam, with participation of the mens choir of Weilerbach. Musical accompaniment was to be provided by the 76th Army Band. Because of the Gulf War, this trip had to be canceled on short notice. Since most choir members were Americans and were partially reassigned, the choir was decimated. For security reasons, no rehearsals could take place at this time. The rehearsals were taken up again in September. Still, there were some highlights of the year, especially the Rhineland-Palatinate premiere of John Rutter’s “Requiem”. This was followed by concerts in Zweibrücken and the charity concert with the Weilerbach mens choir in the St. Nicholas Church in Ramstein.
promises to be a special year. For 2nd to 5th of April, we were able to reschedule the concert tour to Brandenburg that was canceled in 1991. A charity concert was held in the Trinity Church, in which the “Requiem” by John Rutter was performed. There was another concert the next day in the clubhouse of the railwaymen in Kirchmöser. On April 24th, the choir gave a church concert of modern sacred music in the Klosterkirche in Enkenbach. On December 18th, the choir performed international Christmas chorals in Ludwigshafen-Oggersheim in the Wallfahrtskirche „Maria Himmelfahrt“. Already in the middle of the year, there had been a change in the direction of the choir. Richard Myers took over from conductor Gregory Prudom, who was returning to America. Myers had previously accompanied the choir musically.
On February 5-6, RPIC hosted the Albertson College of Idaho Choir in Kaiserslautern and also sponsored this trip on their European tour. The choir performed on Febr. 5th in the Protestant Church of Weilerbach, presenting sacred music by Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, as well as medleys of Stephen Forster and spirituals. The round of RPC Christmas performances began on Dec. 1st at the German-American Press Club in the Casimirsaal in Kaiserslautern with a Christmas journey through the world. At Dec. 4th, we presented Christmas carols at the Christmas market in Schwedelbach. On December 5th, the annual Christmas concert took place in the Protestant Church in Weilerbach, where the choir performed jointly with the Weilerbach Choral Society under the direction of E. Clement, accompanied by the 76th U.S. Army Band, led by K. Allen. On December 7th, the choir participated in the Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony at the main entrance of the U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl with festive carols. On December 12th, the choir performed its Christmas program at the Chapel 3 in Kaiserslautern-Vogelweh. Furthermore, the choir performed on December 18th once again with the same program as in 1992 in Ludwigshafen-Oggersheim in the Wallfahrtskirche „Maria Himmelfahrt“.
Under the new leadership of Vicky Jardin Tobin, a challenging music program was developed. A concert tour to Prague in the Czech Republic was planned for late April, and a guest appearance at the end of May at the Rhineland-Palatinate Day in Frankenthal was scheduled. Due to the troup reductions of U.S. forces in Germany and the resulting decline of membership of the American singers, the choir was depleted. The planned concert tours had to be cancelled. With 24 singers the choir started into the autumn season and rehearsed Christmas carols for the charity concert with the Weilerbach Choral Society on Dec. 4 in the Protestant Church in Weilerbach and for the concert on December 16th in the Chapel 1 on Ramstein Air Base. The choir is now under the direction of Carla Thomson-Jones, a trained music teacher.
The promising new beginning under the direction of Carla Thomson-Jones was thwarted by the fact that the choir was decimated by the continued departure of many Americans. This particularly affected the male tenor and bass sections, but also the soprano voices. In the autumn season, it was nevertheless possible to rehearse Christmas tunes with a small ensemble. The choir was directed by Jaemi Sitzmann. With the children’s choir of the elementary school at Fischerrück in Kaiserslautern, the choir gave a Christmas concert on Dec. 17th in the Lutherkirche in Kaiserslautern.
The choir rehearsed regularly in spring under the direction of Jaemi Sitzmann. However, due to the small membership, there were no public appearances. After the summer break, Lt.Col. Dr. Dennis Leyendecker, who was also head of the U.S. Air Force Europe Band, took over as the musical director of the choir. The choir was still looking for new singers.
With the start of the new year, the choir RPIC moved its rehearsals to the community center in Rodenbach and then in the fall to the Cath. Parish Hall of St. Raphael in Kaiserslautern-Einsiedlerhof. A medley of Christmas carols was performed during the Christmas concert with the USAFE Band in the Fruchthalle Kaiserslautern on Dec. 6th, led by Dennis Leyendecker. According to “Rheinpfalz” newspaper, there were brilliant voices in all sections, excellent overall sound of the choir and flawless interpretation. The choir is on its way back to its former glory.
Under the direction of Lt.Col. Leyendecker, the choir presented a spring concert on April 26th at the abbey church in Ottersberg, which was reviewed very favorably in the press (“Emphatic and pure choral jubilation”). The highlight of the year was the participation of the choir in the celebrations for the 50th Anniversary of the end of the blockade of Berlin on October 16/17th, which took place in Berlin-Tempelhof.
In September, Karalee Romaneski took over as RPIC director. On December 17th, the choir participated in the Christmas concert of the USAFE Band. German and American Christmas carols were presented.
In May, the RPIC was invited to a spring festival by German-American Women’s Club, during which the choir sang German and American folk songs. On June 4th, the choir performed in the abbey church in Ottersberg at a spiritual concert with readings. Dec. 2nd - participation in a pre-Christmas concert in Schloßkirche in Neuhemsbach. Karalee Romaneski directed the RPIC at her farewell concert.
Until September, the choir was without a music director. The rehearsals were held by senior members of the choir. In September, Keelan McCamey started directing the RPIC, and led the choir at the opening of the cultural market on December 1st in the Fruchthalle Kaiserslautern. On December 7th, the choir sang Christmas hymns at the Christmas concert of the USAFE band in the Fruchthalle Kaiserslautern.
In February, Kimberly Graff took over the leadership of RPIC. Under her direction, the choir performed at the Gartenschau Kaiserslautern on June 8 in a concert titled “Sing in a choir!” with German and American folk songs. Further appearances followed on November 30th for the opening of the cultural market in the Fruchthalle, on December 5th at the German-American Women’s Club in the “Casimir” at the Gartenschau Kaiserslautern, on December 10th at the Christmas concert of the USAFE band in the Fruchthalle, on December 14th at a Christmas concert at the Gustav-Adolf-Kirche in KL-Erzhütten, and on December 20th with the Christmas concert at the multipurpose hall in Kindsbach.
Sept. 21st - Concert at the Gartenschau Kaiserslautern (directed by Kimberly Graff).
After the departure of Kimberly Graff, the choir was without musical direction. Choir member Carolyn Connor acted as temporary director until Sept. 2005.
4th of June - Concert of RPIC and members of the Men’s Choral Society 1911 Hochspeyer with the American Horn Quartet in the abbey church Ottersberg under the direction of Carolyn Connor. Starting in September, Irmela Knoll Kliewer takes over as the director of RPIC. December 7/8th - Christmas concert with the USAFE Band in the Stiftskirche Kaiserslautern, directed by Irmela Knoll Kliewer (the “Rheinpfalz” comments: “… the Choir has blossomed under its new conductor, much to its advantage”).
The choir now rehearses in the parish hall of the Protestant Gustav Adolf Church in KL-Erhütten. June 17th - “Kleine Marktmusik” of the RPIC at St. Martin Church with choral music from five continents. In the afternoon, the choir gave a concert at the Gartenschau entitled “Once around the globe.” July 15th - on the occasion of the 100th Anniversary of the Natursteinwerk Picard, RPIC gave a late-night performance in the quarry with international songs. December 8th - Christmas concert of the USAFE band in the Fruchthalle with RPIC participation. Dec. 15th - “Christmas Carols” with the RPIC in the “church night” of the Stiftskirche with works by J.S. Bach, G.F. Handel and Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. According to “Rheinpfalz”, the soprano Linda Gross managed to create special musical moments of fascination and interpretation. The two also very appealing altos Kornelia Dessloch and Sharon Moss formed a special kind of singing duet.
Since January, the RPIC is under the direction of Sam Alexander. May 11th - “Little Night Music” in the Stiftskirche with the RPIC (“Choral music from the Renaissance to the Present”). Dec. 7th - Christmas Concert of the USAF Band with participation of the RPIC.
Sept. 13th - Performance at the recital of the MGV “Liederkranz” Otterberg.
Dec. 2008 - June 2013
Starting December 2008, Dr. Patrick Casey took over as our musical director. Information about the concerts from this time on can be found in the “Performances” section.
Under Dr. Casey’s leadership, the choir doubled in membership to approx. 45 singers in 2013 and grew in musical substance, broadening its repertoire to include choral-orchestral projects. The most notables were W.A. Mozart’s “Missa Brevis in C-Major KV258” and Antonio Vivaldis “Gloria, RV589”, both performed with chamber orchestra and professional soloists. Between December 2008 and June 2013, the choir had a total of 43 concerts and performances. Among those were the popular yearly Chirstmas concerts with the USAFE concert band, a first prize choir competition performance in the category “folk & world music” at the state-wide choir festival in Kaiserslautern and performances at the German Choir Festival 2012 in Frankfurt.
This positive development hasn’t gone unnoticed in the local musical community and the press. The “Rheinpfalz” newspaper wrote in December 2012: “If you experienced the Rheinland-Pfalz International Choir a few years ago, you were in for a big surprise. Patrick Casey has formed the choir into a sounding ensemble of surprising quality. Especially convincing is the rich euphony; […] the singing is precise and clean, the phrasing is excellent, and the director cares about dynamics and a nice final ritardando.”
In August 2013, Patrick started to take a leave of absence to pursue activities in the USA. During that time, Stephanie Benton led the choir as our Visiting Music Director.
Jan. 2014 - Apr. 2016
Stephanie Benton became our official Music Director, now that Dr. Casey decided to extend his leave of absence further. Mrs. Benton continued to broaden the scope of the choir by selecting larger choral-orchestral works, such as Benjamin Britten’s “A Ceremony of Carols” or Joseph Haydn’s “Missa in angustiis (Nelson Mass)”. Under her direction, the choir grew both in terms of membership, as well as musically and in terms of performance quality. The strong performance and development of our choir was constantly and repeatedly emphasized in the local press and culminated with an invitation to join other choirs from multiple countries for a performance at Carnegie Hall, New York in January 2017. In April 2016, Stephanie Benton and her husband returned to the US.
May 2016 - July 2018
In May 2016, the associate director of the USAFE Band, Dr. Justin W. Lewis, became our new director. Developing our choral sound for the performance of two major choral concert works was dominating the following years of his directorship. In November 2017, the choir performed Johannes Brahms’ “Ein deutsches Requiem” in a joint project with the Classical Choir of the TU Kaiserslautern and the Symphony Orchestra of Kaiserslautern (SOKL) under the direction of Berthold Kliewer. In June 2018, the choir performed Ralph Vaughan Williams’ cantata “Dona nobis pacem” together with the USAFE Band at concerts in Kaiserslautern and Saarbrücken. At these concerts, we proudly welcomed Dr. Craig Jessop, who was our choir director 30 years earlier, as our guest director. The choir was also invited to participate in the performance of this cantata at the Britain Choral Festival in July 2018 at Ely Cathedral, Cambridgeshire. During these years, our membership in the Chorforum Kaiserslautern led to a number of additional collaborations and joint concerts with the choir of the Musikverein Kaiserslautern, the Sonntagschor Rheinland-Pfalz and other choirs of the forum. Special thanks go to our associate director Mandy Moreno, who led our choir at rehearsals and concerts in the first half of 2017 during a leave of absence for Dr. Lewis. In July 2018, Dr. Justin W. Lewis and his family returned to USA.
Jennifer Hsiung takes over as our new director.