LAFAYETTE — For 40 years, Chorale Acadienne has given audiences a taste of how heaven must sound.

Over the course of those four decades, the group's sacred masterworks have included Brahms "Requiem," "Carmina Burana," Beethoven’s "Missa Solemnis," the Fauré "Requiem," Bach's "Magnificat" and "The Messiah," sung in its entirety in New Orleans.

“There was a 13-second silence at the end of the Rutter 'Requiem' when no one in the audience moved,” recalled founding charter member May Waggoner.

Artistically co-directed by Rusty Roden and John Frank Reeve, Chorale’s 40th season is suitably called Reminiscence.

Its fall concert — set for 7:30 p.m. Oct. 17 at Lafayette's St. Pius X Catholic Church, at Kaliste Saloom and East Bayou Parkway — will be the same program of 40 years ago with Bruckner’s "Te Deum," the Fauré "Requiem" and more.

“The nature of this group is major works from the get-go,” said Roden. “And masterworks are closely tied to history of the Catholic church.”

Roden and Reeve decide the selections for the 46-member chorale.

“The fall concert is a remembrance of the first one," Roden said. "We’re repeating Benjamin Briton’s 'Ceremony of Carols' at St. John Cathedral accompanied by the harp.”

Although Chorale’s first concerts were in churches, charter members Waggoner and Velma Clement said the group formed in 1979 at the request of former Mayor Kenny Bowen and Michael Goudeau. At the time, it performed folk songs, patriotic music, Broadway tunes and the occasional community Christmas "Messiah."

The group is funded by private donations from grants and some ticket sales from its Moonlight & Music fundraiser, where it performs pop music.

While the group has performed over a hundred sacred concerts over the years, the angelic sound doesn’t always come easy.

“The Brahms 'Requiem' is very beautiful but difficult,” said Roden.

“Leonard Bernstein’s 'Chichester Psalms' and 'Jubilate Deo' — there are lots of moving parts and language issues. Mandarin, Arabic, Hebrew, Spanish, Zulu, Latin,” said Reeve. “Beethoven’s 'Missa Solemnis' is hard to conduct.”

"Missa Solemnis" is considered one of Beethoven’s most profound achievements.

One of Acadiana’s oldest performing music organizations can list some profound achievements of its own, such as the visit from choral director and Grammy Award winner Vance George. In 1981, Vincent Price narrated "King David," which was followed by singing.

The group has performed in Prague and on two occasions at Carnegie Hall. It also counts performances with the Baton Rouge Symphony and the Acadiana Symphony among its achievements. 

Many of its performances have been spiritual experiences for Chorale’s members as well as its audiences.

“Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 'Resurrection,' — I cry when I think about it," recalled Waggoner.

“Chorale gave me new life," said Nanette Rabelais, who has been singing with the group for six years and is the current president of the Chorale board of directors. “My husband had passed away; I needed something. I read they were having auditions, and my father was a singer.”

Chorale holds auditions in January and August.

“Choral is a unique niche," said past President Stuart Burgess, who sings bass. "We reach a certain group of people. We’re looking for a few good men, especially an excellent tenor and bass.”

“It’s just rewarding,” Burgess added. “Forty years is a major accomplishment.”

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