In 1981, when Linda L. Tedford put an ad in the newspaper for singers, she was scared. Would anyone want to sing or even listen to a newly formed chorale group in central Pennsylvania? Surprisingly, interest trickled in. Back then, this new group—the Susquehanna Chorale—started with 11 vocalists. They held their first concert, and Tedford discovered that, yes, people did want to listen.
“People came and loved what we were doing,” Tedford recalls. “In over 30 years, our audiences have grown and recognition has been regional and national.”
No one is more amazed than Tedford, artistic director, founder and conductor of the now 30-plus member Susquehanna Chorale, who proclaims that choral music is the ultimate expression of who she is and what she values in life.
“It is a perfect marriage of poetry and music, sung in a community of people with common goals with passions to express themselves through this unique art form,” she says. “It allows me to be who I am, whether I’m singing, conducting, listening or teaching.”
Music was part of Tedford’s DNA during her childhood in Blue Bell, located outside of Philadelphia. Her first memory was hearing her father sing; he was an engineer by day and a singer at night and on weekends. Tedford had loved singing in choirs and recalls gathering around the piano with church friends and singing hymns for hours.
But the turning point in her life was as a grad student at Temple University, where she met and studied with internationally known conductor and Grammy Award winner Robert Page. Page has greatly influenced Tedford’s career and her Chorale.
Within three years of starting the Susquehanna Chorale, Tedford and her group were selected by audition to sing at the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) convention, and 13 years later, the Chorale became the first volunteer chorus to receive Chorus America’s prestigious Margaret Hillis Achievement Award for Choral Excellence.
Two years ago, Tedford received ACDA-PA’s Elaine Brown Award for Choral Excellence, awarded for a lifetime of outstanding choral achievement. Since 1994, she has been director of Choral Activities at Messiah College in Grantham, where she also teaches voice and graduate and undergraduate-level conducting. This year, she received the Arts Award presented by Theatre Harrisburg.
“It is an honor and a privilege to be recognized for my work in the area in the choral field,” Tedford says. “I am passionately in love with the choral art at every level.”
That love of choral art, plus music by Bach, Celtic music, choral music by American composers, Handel’s “Messiah,” Mendelssohn’s “Elijah” – the last two performed with her mentor Page – are on Tedford’s favorites list. She and her Susquehanna Chorale have traveled and performed beyond the ocean, and Tedford notes Scotland as their most memorable musical venue.
“We performed there in 1996 on a tour of the British Isles,” she recalls. “The Scots loved us and we loved them. We saw and sang Loch Lomond and participated in a ceilidh (a traditional Gaelic party gathering) complete with tea, shortbread and poetry and dancing. We were made honorary Scots.”
Recently, the Susquehanna Chorale performed Verdi’s “La Traviata” with the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra. And, last month, Tedford and her group traveled to Hershey and Grantham for a concert entitled “Sojourn,” where audiences listened to Mendelssohn, Ola Gjeilo, Billy Joel, Carly Simon and joined in on a rousing rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” In August, they’ll debut in Chautauqua, N.Y., and a new CD is in the works.
“I love variety, and this program is a perfect example,” she says.
Like any artistic group, the Susquehanna Chorale has had its challenges finding funding, talent and dedicated board members. The journey has been a hard one, Tedford admits, but she’s thrilled about the successes, the accolades and the group’s newly adopted slogan: “Enriching lives through song.”
“I am excited about all the possibilities for expansion and growth that this statement expresses,” she says. “I am grateful to my wonderful singers of all my choirs who have sung for me, listened to what I have to say and become polished ensembles in performance.”