A local LGBT and ally chorus is now under the direction of a local music aficionado who plans to fuse his expertise and vision with the singers’ talent.
Conductor and composer Dean Rishel took over the reins at Philadelphia Voices of Pride on the first of the year.
Rishel, a native of Whitemarsh Township, has extensive experience in various facets of the music field but, until now, had never taken on a leadership role with an LGBT chorus.
“When I saw the position at Philadelphia Voices of Pride, I was really drawn to the idea of conducting an all-gay chorus, never having done that before,” Rishel said. “So I interviewed with them and I really liked the people that I met and liked their ideas, and it seemed like a good match.”
Rishel will have a wide range of responsibilities in his new role, which he hopes will strengthen the quality of the PVOP performances.
“The artistic director oversees really all the artistic decisions of the group,” Rishel said, noting he will work with other staffers to “plan the programs and then work with the singers at rehearsals, working on technical matters of vocal production, matters of style and matters of interpretation and prepare the pieces for public performance. We want them as polished as we can possibly get them.”
PVOP, which was founded in the fall of 2005 and performed its first full concert the following spring, currently has 30 members.
Rishel, who is openly gay, is expected to bring a multifarious musical perspective to the chorus.
Rishel, who studied music at the Westminster Choir College and The College of New Jersey, premiered his first major composition, “Psalm Cycle,” in 1985 and has gone on to compose a vast collection of works, many of which were created for local organizations. In 1995, Rishel’s “Requiem for Children,” which honored the children who died in the Oklahoma City bombing, drew praise from across the country and was presented in several major performances in such places as Colorado, Florida and New Jersey.
He has also conducted numerous performances by the Princeton Opera and sung with the Opera Company of Philadelphia Chorus. Rishel, a teacher with the Florence Township Board of Education for 34 years, has also served as an adjunct professor at Rowan and La Salle universities, directing both colleges’ singing groups.
Rishel also offers private vocal lessons and, for the past 10 years, has served as the artistic director of the Greater South Jersey Chorus, a position he’ll continue to hold even with his new job at PVOP.
Despite the long list of responsibilities Rishel accumulates throughout his many musical endeavors, his love of music makes the time and energy invested worth it.
“It’s time consuming, but it’s a challenge that I enjoy,” he said.
Rishel said he’s looking forward to expanding not only PVOP’s membership but also its potential.
“I want to build the group in numbers, but more so want to bring them to the highest level of accomplishment I can. I want to put on concerts I can feel proud of and the group can feel really proud of. I want the audience to realize that what they’re seeing is a polished product from a fine choral group and raise the profile of this group in this city.”
Erika Grossman, PVOP president, said the chorus has already benefited from Rishel’s influence over the past two months.
“The chorus as a whole — from the membership to the board of directors — is extremely happy to have Dean join us,” Grossman said. “His enthusiasm for the music, both the notes and the reasoning behind them, is infectious. And because of that enthusiasm, people have challenged themselves to move beyond their comfort level, to grow musically as an organization and as individuals. We are looking forward to a wonderful concert this May, and a strong partnership for many years to come.”