The word amateur may mean "dabbler" or simply "nonprofessional" today, but its Latin root is that of "love." Any community organization relies on the passion that its volunteers have for their cause, and community choirs are no exception.
"They are people who love to sing," says Susan Medley, music director of the Pittsburgh Concert Chorale. Her all-volunteer choir based in the North Hills is more than 100 strong, comprising professionals from lawyers and doctors to teachers and accountants and spanning the range of recent college graduates to retired people. But they all have one thing in common: "They had a good choral experience in their life and want to bring it back into their lives," Ms. Medley says.
Don't confuse amateurs with poor performers. Many sang at high levels but just took different career paths. In concerts this weekend, the Chorale will show it can handle some challenging repertoire: a J. S. Bach cantata, Brahms' "Schicksalslied" and Beethoven's Choral Fantasy. "I like to program music that will stretch them," says Ms. Medley.
That's in the spirit of the ensemble that conductor Clark Bedford founded in 1985 as the North Hills Chamber Singers. Nine years later the choir took its present name and soon sang difficult works such as Bach's B Minor Mass and Amy Beach's "Canticle of the Sun." When Mr. Bedford retired in 2006, conductor Katherine Mueller succeeded him; Ms. Medley took over in 2011.
She also is continuing the choir's tradition of performing outside the North Hills. In 1999, the group toured the United Kingdom and has performed at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., and at Chautauqua, N.Y. On March 9, the ensemble will make its first appearance in New York City, performing at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. Augmenting its numbers will be the Washington & Jefferson College Camerata Singers, a group that Ms. Medley leads as director of choral activities there. The program will be similar to the concerts here.
"Obviously we are very excited about this," she says. Soloists for all of the concerts are pianist Antonio Fermin, soprano Katy Williams, mezzo-soprano Eva Rainforth, tenor Ryan Keeling and bass Adam Fry.
But for Ms. Medley, the most important travel is the artistic one. "I am really pleased with the progress we are making," she says. "They love this choir and are willing to work hard."