Vox GR: The Power of a Small Ensemble
Written by Zachary Avery. Photo: Courtesy of Vox GR


With an exceptional symphony, opera company, ballet company and touring Broadway company, Grand Rapids is no stranger to the performing arts.

Whether its art-lovers prefer an outdoor concert at Frederik Meijer Gardens or yearly renditions of theatrical classics, there’s something for everyone. Now, Dr. Christopher Mason and his chamber choir troupe, Vox GR, may add choral singing to that list of springtime evening activities in West Michigan.

While looking for connection among local music practitioners following the pandemic, Mason began to find individuals who, like himself, were interested in bringing a premier, professional choral group to West Michigan. Mason had moved to the city in the fall of 2021, and, while a community of vocalists was already flourishing among the volunteer choirs in GR’s various churches and venues (including the ‘symphony chorus’ which regularly performs alongside the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra), there wasn’t already a dedicated group of amateur-professionals who could dedicate themselves to the careful mission of Vox GR; to enrich West Michigan through compelling performances.

“It creates a very concentrated and focused time period on the music,” Mason said. “Since the musicians are all professionals, they come with the music learned. They know the notes, they know the rhythms. They’re ready to make music together, so we get to the business of being an ensemble right from the very start.”

Graduates and voice teachers from several regional programs, including Calvin, Hope, Aquinas and Grand Valley State University, the singers of Vox GR come from all walks of life and therefore bring about an entirely unique sound from their limited group, which, when compared to teams of 50 or more (e.g. Chamber Choir of Grand Rapids), feels miraculously small.

“We focus on what’s called ‘chamber music,’ that’s music for a group about the size of ours—about 16 to 20 singers,” Mason said. “There’s repertoire specifically written for that kind of choir, which allows us to have singers at such a high skill level focused on collaborative, small-sized choral music.”

The group’s season-end performance is sure to be their most challenging yet, and Mason looks forward to showcasing an evening of intentional, thought-provoking choral music which shifts between genre, tone and time. Titled “Tongues Of Fire,” the concert is divided into five sets of multiple pieces, each leading directly into the other as Vox GR sings songs of divine love, love from afar, intimacy and friendship. The goal of the sets is to pull and contrast, creating an experience that feels varied and thematic. Mason considers this to be the hallmark of his group.

“For the audience members, I want them to hear music that’s beautiful, a little challenging to their ears and also familiar,” Mason said. “I tend to balance those things out within a larger theme.”

As for the name itself, Tongues Of Fire is in reference to one of the performance’s standout pieces: “Tongues Of Fire Mass” by Cecilia McDowell (one of Mason’s favorite living composers). In fact, many of the night’s pieces are from contemporary composers and artists, guaranteeing a novel experience for those but the most music-savvy amongst us. As a point of preference, Mason made sure to state that he and his board of directors regularly seek out extraordinary auteurs in their field for the latest in chamber music and oftentimes arrive at new pieces that take them by surprise. For Mason, these are the exact pieces of music that Grand Rapidians should be experiencing for themselves.

“We want music that speaks to people in our modern audience, we want music that connects people with our community,” Mason said. “We’re currently looking at Michigan composers or issues that are focused on our particular region. There are some pieces about the Great Lakes. There’s a poet laureate in the area I’ve talked to about particular text for music. Those are long-range projects.”

Another way Vox GR employs community engagement is through their various forms of choral music education, including complementary voice lessons for Ottawa Hills High School students with community outreach coordinator and Vox GR member, Hannah DeBoer. The latest class of these students have even managed to receive “Superior” rankings at their latest solo and ensemble festival and will be making plans to perform at a higher level. In addition to free tutoring, Vox GR considers their accessibility to the greater community through their ticketing, which boasts only a $15 student ticket for the upcoming GR performance and entirely free admittance in Holland. The concert will last approximately an hour and 15 minutes.

Still in their early infancy, come see the grand finale of Vox GR’s first full-season later this month—it may mark the start of another fantastic fine arts tradition for West Michigan.

Tongues of Fire
Vox GR
227 E. Fulton St., Grand Rapids
May 18, 7:30 p.m.