Chorus Member Profile
25-Year Chorus Member: Lauren Hess
One of the most vivid memories Lauren Hess has from her incredible 25-years with the May Festival Chorus is the trip to New York City in October 2001 to sing at Carnegie Hall. It was merely one month after the tragedy of 9/11, and the entire country was still reeling from the devastation – emotionally, culturally and systemically.
As a native of Buffalo, New York, Lauren grew up visiting NYC regularly to see a Broadway show or two, and visit museums and favorite restaurants. This tradition continued as she became an adult, and in the late 1980s, her brother-in-law worked in the World Trade Center, giving her one more reason to return to the Big Apple from time to time.
Getting on the plane to fly to New York City that fall was in itself an emotional undertaking as airlines began to create a new normal for air travel. Was it safe? Would anyone get stopped at security? As their flight circled for landing, the Chorus could see the altered skyline from above, smoke and ashes still rising from Ground Zero. On the ground, Lauren was struck to see that New York’s trademark brash, confrontational demeanor had softened. People were kinder, friendlier, and more than willing to lend a hand to bring the community closer to normal.
The May Festival was there to perform Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem at Carnegie Hall, a harrowing, mournful, and profoundly moving piece originally commissioned for the reconsecration of the historic Coventry Cathedral, which had been almost completely destroyed in a bombing during World War II. At the close of the May Festival’s performance there was complete silence. And then, open, unabashed weeping.
Lauren is not the only long-tenured member of the Chorus who recounts this May Festival memory as one of the most vivid and emotional in their time; however, her long relationship with the Big Apple made this experience for her all the more powerful.
Lauren began singing at a young age as a member of her church choir. Her father was the church’s bass soloist, so it was a bit of a family tradition. As she grew up, she continued singing and expanded her musical studies to include playing flute, which later became her focus in college at Nazareth College in Rochester. There, she earned her bachelor’s degree in music education and began her career back in Buffalo as a teacher at an all-girls Catholic high school. After seven years in the classroom, Lauren decided to pivot toward work in arts administration.
In the meantime, Lauren met a handsome young man named Richard, also from Buffalo. The two were married in 1987, and a few years later, they moved to Cincinnati so that Richard could pursue a degree in stage direction at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music (CCM). They didn’t plan to stay here after graduation, but we are so glad they did! Richard was offered a fantastic position running the Acting Department at CCM upon graduation, and Lauren decided to take her turn earning a master’s degree at CCM, though hers would be in arts administration. Since then, Lauren has been very involved in Cincinnati’s arts education community, having held a variety of positions focused on arts integration programs. These days, Lauren serves as the Executive Director on the small but mighty staff of Cincinnati Youth Choir, serving at least 850 young singers each year through education and performance opportunities.
In 1995, Lauren had her first exposure to the May Festival as a member of the audience and remembers being blown away at the performance. She was inspired to join, and auditioned for her spot in the soprano section the following fall. Since then, the May Festival Chorus has become her second family, and she is always honored to perform in Music Hall, savoring every moment onstage in the historic and beautiful venue. Over the years, she has served on the Chorus Committee twice, been a member of the May Festival’s marketing staff, participated in securing the commissioned music to celebrate Robert Porco’s 20th Anniversary with the chorus, and even helped redesign the women’s dresses – with pockets!
This year, Lauren is pleased to be performing in this year’s small group of singers for the 2021 May Festival. You can find her in the Hearts and Voices Soar concert on May 29 and May 30 as a part of the small women’s chorus, performing selections from Reena Esmail’s I Rise: Women in Song.
We are so pleased to have had Lauren Hess as a member of the May Festival family for the past 25 years! Please join us in sending her a hearty “Congratulations!” Get to know her a little better by listening to her favorite music here.