Saturday, March 5, 2022

Fauré Requiem and Vaughan Williams Five Mystical Songs

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Abbie Betinis, Jake Runestad, David Maddux, Rosephanye Powell, Craig Hella Johnson (from Considering Matthew Shepard), and Ysaye Barnwell

About Illuminati

Tony Thornton began Illuminati Vocal Arts Ensemble in the fall of 2013, with a mission to create a professional-caliber vocal arts ensemble with the heart and dedication of an amateur chorus. Dr. Thornton is well acquainted with professional ensembles, as you can see from his biography.

The Illuminati Vocal Arts Ensemble is beginning to realize Tony’s vision. A unique chamber chorus, we draw our volunteer singers from throughout Massachusetts and beyond. We have received rave reviews from audiences and newspapers, and have earned the respect of area cultural institutions.

The ensemble performs choral miniatures and masterworks from all periods and styles, and collaborates with other community/professional organizations.

“Performances at the level of Illuminati's give the listener a clear window into the composer's soul.” - Clifton Noble Jr, The Republican, Oct. 15, 2016

2020 Board of Directors
Manuel Andrade,
Shirley Griffin,
Sarah Metcalf,
Past President
Anisa Schardl,
Katrina Turner,
Chorus Liaison
William Albritton,
Graphics and Web
Dr. Tony Thornton,
Artistic Director(ex officio)
Members at Large
Saxon Elliott Phil Stoddard Willow Elise Volante
American Prize for Choral Excellence

Third Place Winner, 2019-20 American Prize for Choral Excellence
a national juried choral competition

About Tony Thornton

Active as a conductor, educator, clinician, and author, Tony Thornton received his Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education and Voice from Westminster Choir College, a Master of Music degree in Choral Conducting from Louisiana State University, and his Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Choral Conducting and Historical Musicology from the University of Arizona. He studied conducting with Joseph Flummerfelt, Kenneth Fulton, Frauke Haasemann, Margaret Hillis, Bruce Chamberlain, and Donald Neuen.

Trained first as a singer, Dr. Thornton has performed as a tenor soloist throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia. As a member of the Westminster Choir, he performed at the Spoleto Festival in Italy and the United States, and he has recorded with Leonard Bernstein, Riccardo Muti, Robert Shaw, Claudio Abbado, and Zubin Mehta. He sang for seven years as a member of the Grammy Award-winning Robert Shaw Festival Singers.

As a guest conductor and clinician who is active on the national and international choral scene, Dr. Thornton has worked with over 300 women’s, men’s, and mixed choruses in public schools, colleges, churches, community, and professional organizations in 24 states, Japan, and throughout Europe.

Dr. Thornton is the author of The Choral Singer’s Survival Guide ( and he maintains a choral series in his name at Colla Voce Music. He is currently Director of Choral Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he oversees an extensive choral program, guides the graduate program in choral conducting, and serves as Director of the Choral Area for the UMass Summer Conducting Institute. He is the Founding Artistic Director of Illuminati Vocal Arts Ensemble.

Dr. Thornton holds active memberships in the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA), Chorus America, International Federation for Choral Music (IFCM), National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS), and the National Collegiate Choral Organization (NCCO). He is President of the Massachusetts chapter of the American Choral Directors Association.

About Sarah Ehle

Sarah Ehle received her Bachelor’s degree in Piano Performance from Wheaton College, and her Master’s degree in Collaborative Piano from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her experience includes working with choirs as well as collaborating with musicians of almost every instrument, working as rehearsal pianist for a student opera program, and playing for several student musical theatre revues.

Ms. Ehle is on staff at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she works with the UMass Chamber Choir and several studios. She also accompanies Suzuki group classes at the Northampton Community Music School, and has worked as a staff accompanist at the Hartt School of Music in Connecticut.

Spring 2022 Concerts

Music has the power to move and inspire, to tell important stories, and to bring communities together. The Illuminati Vocal Arts Ensemble performs choral pieces and masterworks from all periods and styles, often in collaboration with other musical organizations throughout the Pioneer Valley. Our sold-out concerts attract a discerning audience that shares a passion for performance at the highest level. Noted pianist, composer and music reviewer Clifton Noble, Jr., recently complimented us as "the Valley's finest chorus," and Tony Thornton as a conductor who "makes magic with music."

Although the prospect of live performances is still fraught, Illuminati is making plans for in-person musical experiences this spring. Masks, vaccinations and boosters will be required of audience and singers alike. For updates, revisit this site or subscribe to our list

The Fauré Requiem... was a set work for A-level and I took myself along to a local amateur performance to get to know it better. I remember experiencing an uncanny feeling that it would be a dear friend and companion on my life’s journey (it is). To this day tears come to my eyes when I conduct the In paradisum.

—John Rutter, Anthologising: Sacred Choruses, posted October 29, 2018

Five Mystical Songs is, for this writer, one of those Vaughan Williams works that, when 1 play it, makes me feel like rushing into the street and dragging complete strangers into the living room and not letting them go until they admit that I got me flowers and Love bade me welcome are the most beautiful things they have ever heard.

—Stephen Connock, Journal of the RVW Society, No. 7, February 2000, p. 13

For our return to public performance, Illuminati Vocal Arts Ensemble will feature two profoundly religious works by avowed agnostics, Gabriel Fauré's Requiem in D minor, Op. 48, and Ralph Vaughan Williams' Five Mystical Songs. The former is an idiosyncratic setting of the Catholic Mass for the Dead, and the latter sets a series of poems by the deeply-pious seventeenth-century Anglican priest George Herbert. The sentiments they express transcend doctrine; their music offers meaning in dark times.

Fauré famously wrote of the Requ8iem in D minor: "Everything I managed to entertain by way of religious illusion I put into my Requiem, which moreover is dominated from beginning to end by a very human feeling of faith in eternal rest." (Steinberg, Michael, "Gabriel Fauré: Requiem, Op. 48," in Choral Masterworks: A Listener's Guide, Oxford University Press. pp. 131–137.)

Vaughan Williams' wife Ursula described his religious feelings similarly: "He was an atheist during his later years at Charterhouse and Cambridge, though he later drifted into a cheerful agnosticism: he was never a professing Christian." (Ursula Vaughan Williams, R.V.W.: A Biography of Ralph Vaughan Williams Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 29.)

It is a testament to the power of choral music that these works transport the believer and non-believer alike to a place of profound reverence. They are a meditation on our fragility, humanity and solidarity.


June 11, 2022

Outstanding contemporary choral music celebrating love in all of its diversity, with music by Abbie Betinis, Jake Runestad, David Maddux, Rosephanye Powell, Craig Hella Johnson (“All of Us” from Considering Matthew Shepard), and Ysaye Barnwell.


Entrance into the ensemble is by audition only (see audition process below). Dr. Thornton seeks singers with considerable choral experience. While perfect sight reading is not required, all singers must fully prepare repertoire before the first rehearsal. Illuminati makes music from the beginning.

Dr. Thornton is building an ensemble with a beautiful, communicative sound: tall, warm, vibrant, and round vowels; a wide dynamic palette; an inner rhythmic drive; and in-tune and balanced resonance. In the soprano section he is looking for lyric, energized purity; in the alto section a rich, full sound; in the tenor section a lyric, high/forward, yet warm sound; and in the bass section a rich baritone sound with forward placement that is not overly dark.

If you are interested, please complete the form here and we will email you an audition confirmation with possible times when auditions reopen.

Audition Process:
The audition takes approximately ten minutes. Singers will be asked to perform scales using a variety of articulations (legato, staccato, and marcato) and dynamics to demonstrate color, range, quality, and flexibility. A segment of the audition will emphasize sight-reading and tonal memory (with accompaniment). Finally, each singer will be asked to prepare a section from a work of Dr. Thornton's choice, which will be provided well in advance.

If you have any questions, please email

Founding Donors


Sarah Boy
Greg Brown & Mary Hubbell
Bruce & Wendy Durfee
Chris Krueger & Jane Bryden
Annie Philips
Ellen Story

FIRELIGHT ($100-$249)

Stephen & Suzanna Adams
Joanne Bollinger
K.C. Conlan
Benjiman Durfee
Martha & Newton Frohlich
Paul Knaplund
Bruce & Alexandra Lyman
Rebecca Markarian
Moshe Wurgaft

STARLIGHT ($250-$499)

Robert & Silvia Brinkerhoff
Ronna & Neal Erickson
Sarah Metcalf
Edwin Wilfert

MOONLIGHT ($500-$999)

Philip Stoddard

AURORA BOREALIS ( $1000-$2499)

Manuel & Susan Andrade
Shirley Griffin
Rachel Peterson & Roger Bird


For inquiries, please email