Diane Benson’s Story (Music Director 1987-2016)

Diane Benson 2015I came to the chorus via a Leisure Learning advertisement. The director at the time was a University of Houston professor who decided to take a year’s sabbatical and only notified the chorus at the start of the season. The accompanist took over as the director and asked at the first rehearsal if anyone could play the piano. And that’s how I became the accompanist in the fall of 1986. In the spring of 1987, I was appointed as director when the former director unexpectedly left.

We had about 120 members of all skill levels at the time and were truly a mom and pop community chorus. We dressed in white blouses with long black skirts for the spring and in Victorian costumes for the holiday season. We used only piano accompaniment and songs were very traditional for the holidays. Spring songs were “old” favorites from Broadway shows, folk songs, patriotic pieces, etc.

Over time, the first thing to go was the Victorian costumes. Our first “enhancement” to the black and white outfits was to add red sequined belts and bow ties. Eventually we went with our first “show” outfit of a mid-length black skirt and a red faux sequined top. Men wore sparkly red vests.

The transition to show choir started gradually with memorizing a few pieces, performing more current numbers and adding some simple moves. The costumes also transitioned to full sequins, chiffon skirts and lots of glitz. Auditions were established about 20 years ago for all new members. Over time, the size of the group declined, but the quality of the singers rose dramatically.

We established a collaborative relationship with the Houston Concert Band under the then direction of Dr. Ken Dye, doing several joint concerts over the course of a few years. We performed annually for the July 4th celebration at AstroWorld, sang at the Republican Convention in Houston for George H.W. Bush and participated in the opening ceremonies of the Johnson Space Center. Other highlights included singing for Queen Elizabeth during her visit to Texas in 1991, a brief appearance on America’s Got Talent, performing for the Uptown Houston Holiday Lighting and Nutcracker Market and recently with Barry Manilow. We’ve sung for numerous private events ranging from a class reunion, 50th wedding anniversary party, Veterans Day celebration and a “happy divorce” party!

My artistic legacy is leaving a group that I now consider semi-professional. As I famously said on a TV news report, “WE do what WE do, and we’re the only ones in Houston that do what WE do!” And we do it very well! I am so proud to see how the group has grown in talent, both in the performance arena and in administrative support. Retiring from this position was certainly not an easy decision. I will most likely never again have the opportunity to work with this level of artistic talent, nor be able to perform with such an enthusiastic group of folks.

Many have asked what I will do with my “free” time. I still plan on working at MD Anderson a few more years but at this point, have no idea what passions I will explore next. It certainly will be nice for Ed and me to be able to travel any time we wish and not have it conflict with a Monday night rehearsal! The holidays will not be the same without an overdose of Fa La Las. I will definitely have to come out to the Nutcracker Market to get into the holiday spirit as that has always been the first show of the season, but this time I’ll just shop!

My immediate focus is to get us show-ready for this season and work with the new director to ensure a smooth transition. The friendships I have created with so many of you over the past 30 years will certainly endure, but at a different level. This is one of the things that I will miss most – and what made this decision so difficult.

This group has kept me young, kept me on my toes and certainly kept me up to date on current singers, top hits, technology, etc. I never expected to spend 30 years doing something that I so love. Thank you all for allowing me to lead you on this journey. I know that there are many new performance roads ahead of you!