By Dr. John Silantien

Director, San Antonio Symphony Mastersingers

 Now entering their 69th season, the San Antonio Symphony Mastersingers – the official chorus of the San Antonio Symphony and an independent choral organization – have been delighting audiences in the Alamo City and beyond with their extensive repertoire and passion for excellence.

From Beethoven’s grand Ninth Symphony to Orff’s robust Carmina Burana,  and from the annual Holiday Pops to Handel’s venerable Messiah, the 125-voice, all volunteer Mastersingers have served as the choral arm of San Antonio’s magnificent symphony orchestra for nearly seven decades.

But, the Mastersingers – also an independent 501 (c)(3) organization – reach beyond the walls of the Majestic in a variety of ways.

The chorus has performed as a stand-alone group in New York’s Carnegie Hall, provided support to the San Antonio Opera when international star Andrea Bocelli performed at the Municipal Auditorium (soon to be the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts), and will be embarking on a choral tour of Italy in the Spring of 2013.

And, the group has embraced a number of efforts to garner attention and support for worthy causes.

The Mastersingers at Little Flower.

Since 2003, the singers have performed at the Little Flower Basilica to help raise funds for that historic church’s restoration. In addition, they have presented a concert of music by African-American composers at St. Paul’s Methodist Church on San Antonio’s east side in celebration of the parish’s 140th anniversary.  To commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of Kristallnacht, they performed a Holocaust memorial concert at the Barshop Jewish Community Center.

In October 2009, the chorus presented “Sing for the Cure” – an event that raised $12,000 for breast cancer research organizations in San Antonio.That concert will be presented once again on Nov. 18.

Then, in 2010, the chorus presented the San Antonio premiere of composer Robert Cohen’s choral/orchestral work, “Alzheimer’s Stories.”

Commissioned by the Susquehanna Valley Chorale in Pennsylvania, “Alzheimer’s Stories” shares personal accounts given by singers in the Chorale whose lives have been touched by the disease.  

The composer describes the moving piece on his website,

“The work is in three movements, the arc of which loosely mimics the progression of the disease:

The Numbers – an objective description of the discovery of the disease by Dr. Alois Alzheimer in 1901, including the number of individuals currently afflicted, future projections and dramatized conversations between Dr. Alzheimer and his first patient, Auguste Deter. The movement ends with an extended setting of a quote from his patient, “Ich hab mich verloren,” (“I have lost myself”). 

The Stories – a pastiche of a number of selected stories taken from the [Susquehanna] choir’s blog. With a mixture of pathos, poignancy and humor, we meet a number of individuals afflicted with the disease, portrayed by the two soloists, as well as the recollections of family members. Two notables: a woman who still thinks she’s on a boat to Panama with her father; and a WWII Navy veteran who repeats the same bawdy story of the war so many times that the chorus can recite it by heart.

For the Caregivers – The most difficult part of writing a work about such a terrible and ultimately hopeless disease was how to end the work with some semblance of hope. The clue came in a recollection by one of the chorus members about a visit to a nursing home where a patient asked them to sing. When asked what, the patient replied: “Sing anything.” First referenced in the second movement, this idea became the centerpiece and focus of the last movement. The core of the brilliantly realized libretto is as follows:

Find those you love in the dark and light. Help them through the days and nights.

Keep faith. They sense what they cannot show. Love and music are the last things to go.  Sing anything.”

Cohen, who was present at the Mastersingers’ “Alzheimer’s Stories” San Antonio premiere, which raised money for Alzheimer’s research efforts in San Antonio , was so impressed with the choir’s presentation that he invited the group to be the musical ensemble that will record the work for international distribution – proceeds from which will be donated to Alzheimer’s research efforts.

The rub? The Mastersingers need to raise $40,000 to fund the recording project and worldwide distribution efforts.

To help raise the needed monies, the Mastersingers will reprise “Alzheimer’s Stories” at a future date, and we continue to solicit and accept donations.

Hence, the “Alzheimer’s Stories” recording project will offer encouragement and support to caregivers and loved ones, while helping to raise awareness and provide funding for this disease.

The popular Christmas Pops performance in San Antonio.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association website,

  • 5.4 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease.
  • One in eight older Americans has Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States and the only cause of death among the top 10 in the United States that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed.
  • More than 15 million Americans provide unpaid care valued at $210 billion for persons with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. 
  • Payments for care are estimated to be $200 billion in the United States in 2012.

For information on how you can support the Mastersingers’ “Alzheimer’s Stories” effort, visit the group’s website at Secure donations can be made online. Or, contact Dr. Silantien at info@samastersingers.orgMP3 recording of “For the Caregivers”: 03_For_The_Caregivers edited

The San Antonio Mastersingers have been under the baton of Dr. John Silantien since 1983. He has taught and conducted choirs on the secondary and collegiate levels in Texas, the Washington, D. C. area, and on the faculty of the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York.  He holds a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Illinois, and his awards include a Rockefeller grant for choral conducting at Aspen, Colorado, and a Fulbright award for research in London, England. 

Dr. Silantien presently serves as Director of Choral Activities at the University of Texas at San Antonio, Director of the San Antonio Symphony Mastersingers, and Director of Choral Music at University Presbyterian Church. 

Full disclosure: The Arsenal Group performs communications consulting services for the San Antonio Symphony, but does not publish any sponsored stories on the Rivard Report site.




This article was assembled by various members of the San Antonio Report staff.