MOVING FORWARD: After a successful 3 1/2 run as Executive Director of The Washington Chorus,Stephen Marc Beaudoin shares his decision to leave the thriving symphonic chorus.
LEAD PHOTO: Stephen Marc Beaudoin has served as Executive Director of The Washington Chorus since January 2019.
by Patrick D. McCoy
It takes a person with special gifts to thrive as the leader of any arts organization. Aside from the necessary business acumen, it requires a zeal and genuine love of the art. Stephen Marc Beaudoin brought all of these attributes to his role as Executive Director of The Washington Chorus (TWC). From leading the organization with sound fiscal management to shepherding it during the trying times of a global pandemic, Beaudoin has now decided to take time to move ahead with a few personal aspirations of his own. He chatted with us exclusively about his decision to move on after such a season of both professional and personal success.
PDM: What initially attracted you to the position as Executive Director of the Grammy-award winning Washington Chorus? Could you share what has brought you to this decision to leave the organization after such a successful run?
SMB: This is actually a great story! In August of 2018, I took a two-week trip across Europe and spent the
final three days of this trip in Amsterdam. Unbeknownst to me until I arrived, the city was hosting an
outdoor music festival in which they had built stages on the canals. Everyday there were free concerts
across the city on these outdoor floating stages, which included chamber music, orchestras; choral music and opera scenes. I was absolutely enthralled! And the moment I got back to Washington, I was serving at the
time as Executive Director of the Maryland Symphony Orchestra, a terrific regional orchestra serving Western Maryland. I asked a friend what was the best chorus to join in DC? He responded: “Easy –that’s The Washington Chorus.” Shortly thereafter I auditioned for Christopher Bell, then TWC’s Artistic Director, and he accepted me into the Chorus, with one caveat: “Please know that I cannot pay you, but I nonetheless expect you to help lead this tenor section.” Very well! My early post-undergraduate career was as a pro choral singer and music-theatre performer. At my first rehearsal I sat next to a wonderful longtime tenor named Art, and he casually mentioned TWC was looking for its next Executive Director. I went through TWC’s rigorous and comprehensive search process and four months later was appointed to the position.
PDM: What a journey that has been, almost like a storybook! Why leave after such a successful run?
SMB: This is simple. I need a moment to rest and reset. I need a moment to reflect on all that has happened in the world over the last few years and how I can sharpen and focus the kind of impact I hope to make. And I need to ready myself for the next adventures ahead.
PDM: You led the chorus during a global pandemic, an unprecedented time for performing arts organizations across the globe. What were some of the challenges and victories that you experienced during this time?
SMB: The leadership of TWC during this pandemic has been an enormous team effort, truly: our entire staff, board, community of singers, artists, and education collaborators; all of us came together to make art and foster connections through the darkest days of COVID-19. We’ve done some very cool and even very radical things in the last three and a half years. We were the first chorus to commission a new work in response to COVID-19, Damien Geter’s “Cantata for a More Hopeful Tomorrow” for SATB chorus, cello, and soprano solo. At that time, our fabulous chorus learned and recorded the work entirely virtually (singing into their cell phones and laptops!), then we brought in an Emmy-winning filmmaker to create a story of hope and resilience for a Black couple overcoming COVID-19 which was filmed in DC and Ann Arbor, Michigan, which we released globally as a short music film and album and went on to receive accolades at multiple film festivals. Come on! That’s very cool. Also, we created a digital marketplace where customers can order customized music video messages for every occasion, which started as a pilot in November of 2020 called “Carols on Demand.” It is now a year-round platform called “Cause for Song” because every occasion is indeed a cause for song. This has produced meaningful new earned revenue for TWC and for the artists on the platform and been featured on NBC Washington. Eugene Rogers’ debut chorus and orchestra mainstage program, “Justice and Peace” this past June at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, was a major artistic and social impact achievement for TWC of which we can all be duly proud. Eugene has worked with great care and focus to rebuild the TWC choral sound after so much time apart, and the singers and players responded beautifully. Finally, I was able to develop and deepen relationships with artists that are richly meaningful: artists like composer Damien Geter, soprano Aundi Marie Moore, singers Kerry Wilkerson and Danielle Talamantes, soprano Karen Slack, poet Samiya Bashir, composer and conductor Alysia Lee, filmmaker Bob Berg, visual artist Camilla Tassi, National Symphony Orchestra trombone player David Murray, and many more.
PDM: Balance comes with the territory of any job. Talk about your pursuit and completion of your MBA
at University of Virginia’s prestigious Darden School of Business, and how that further enhanced your understanding of the business model within the realm of the performing arts.
SMB: This is important. Many of us in arts administration come into the business side of leadership having
first worked as practitioners on the artistic side – I think of my friends Khori Dastoor at Houston Grand Opera or Afton Battle at Ft. Worth Opera, for example: both top-class executive arts leaders that studied and worked first as musicians. Coming in from the artist practitioner side absolutely confers insights that are value-add. I have worked in the nonprofit arts space for nearly twenty years now and can say today with some certainty that most organizations invest far too little in education and professional development for their staff, including for their chief executive and artistic leaders. Prior to completing my MBA at UVA Darden this past spring, I had taken countless courses and completed several non-degree professional certifications, but I was hungry for a rigorous, comprehensive, and transformational learning experience that deepened my understanding of all functions across the enterprise as well as my understanding of myself, which is why I choose the Darden MBA program. I’m grateful that my board blessed my participation by allowing me the needed time away from TWC on occasional Fridays and weekends to complete the program. It was unquestionably one of the most challenging and valuable experiences of my life, and one that I highly recommend to all arts leaders seeking to advance their impact. I’m not meaning to suggest here that an MBA is the only or even necessarily the best path for all arts
leaders of all arts organizations in all communities. But I am suggesting two things: one, that the MBA learning experience at an exceptional institution like UVA Darden is profoundly life-changing and worthy of serious consideration by those interested in growing their impact; and two, that whether it’s an MBA or a professional certification or even a couple of Coursera classes, that organizations owe it to our people to invest real money and time in learning and development. The private sector gets this, and far too often the nonprofit sector does not.
PDM: Diversity and inclusion certainly came to the fore during the last few years. How did the appointment of Dr. Eugene Rogers as the organization’s first African American Music director during your tenure speak to your own personal values?
SMB: I have been an agitator for building a powerfully inclusive creative world since the very beginning of
my professional career in music and creativity. These beliefs rest on the values of the household in which I was raised. My dad was a Catholic deacon and religious education director; my mom cleaned houses and worked odd jobs and was a fine amateur pianist and singer. What I remember most about my childhood are two things: one, that my father brought me along on many visits with immigrant and refugee families as he helped them to get settled and to access housing and services in Kansas City; and two, that we had an old upright piano in our tiny living room and I experienced some of my happiest moments there, singing songs with my mom at the piano and producing paper bag puppet shows from behind the piano bench. I have endeavored to build my life’s work around those animating themes: supporting people and communities in achieving their fullest potential and expanding the life-affirming joy of live performance to as many people as possible. Democratizing art and connecting people to meaning. Now, let’s talk about diversity and inclusion in the arts scene here in Washington, DC. BIPOC artists and arts leaders are the heart of DC’s creative community – don’t get it twisted! Should we go through the list of impactful leaders here? Sunny Sumter, Anika Kwinana, Raymond Caldwell, Greg Watkins, Michele Fowlin, Hugo Medrano, C. Brian Williams, Quanice Floyd, Eugene Rogers, Margaret Nomura Clark, Nolan Williams III, Terri Allen and her entire insanely talented family, Theodore “T” Thorpe III, Maria Goyanes, Stanley J. Thurston… I could go on and on. Reggie Van Lee! Reggie Van Lee is arguably the most significant leader on the DC arts scene today: he’s led a major turnaround for the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and our community is better for it. Aside from the MBA, consider me a student at the ‘Reggie Van Lee School of Leadership!’ And yes, this list also includes you. Many of these individuals I am grateful now to call not only colleagues, but also friends. In addition to that remarkable roster, I also want to thank several people that have offered generous mentorship and support, including WPA’s Jenny Bilfield, NSO (and now NY Phil) executive Gary Ginstling and Wolf Trap’s Arvind Manocha among them. This sounds like I’m saying goodbye, but I’m not – though I do think this, or any ending is a good opportunity to acknowledge some amazing leaders and collaborators.
PDM: As you prepare to leave after a 3 1/2 tenure, what do you hope your legacy or what you will be
most remembered for?
SMB: Is this where I get to write my unapologetic love letter to Eugene Rogers, our Artistic Director? Yes?
Good. Because if there is one single thing for which I may be most remembered during my time with TWC, let it
be that I helped design and lead the process, in collaboration with my friend TWC board chair Kara Morrissey, that brought Eugene Rogers to The Washington Chorus as our fifth Artistic Director. I’m crying as I share this because working with Eugene is just so special. It’s more than work. Orperhaps… it’s work but it just feels like life. Do you know what I mean? Eugene is all about the energetic experience. Many of his questions begin with: what kind of energy does this bring? What’s the energy I’m feeling with this idea or person? And there’s really something to that. Eugene is also a fabulous teacher, he has exceptional ears, and he gets results. I treasure my professional and personal relationship with Eugene in a very profound way and know that my departure from TWC does not mean goodbye to Eugene – it’s just that our relationship will evolve and become something different. The Washington Chorus is a remarkable institution: sixty-two years of groundbreaking work at the forefront of the symphonic choral movement. I think TWC is truly one of the most important cultural organizations in our nation’s capital. But I did not make that so. Bob Shafer and Dianne Peterson did that. Dr. Hugh Hayward did that. Julian Wachner and Christopher Bell did that, and now Eugene Rogers is doing that. Chase Maggiano and Rita Shapiro did that. Knight and Ann Kiplinger and Cathy French and Thayer Baine, Chris Denby and Kara Morrissey all did that. Thousands of singers that have made up the ever-evolving membership of TWC over 62 years did that. Has my leadership helped contribute to positive outcomes for TWC and, more importantly, for thesingers, audience, and community we serve? Of course, that is my greatest hope. Of what am I most personally proud? That Eugene is now with TWC as Artistic Director, and that together we set into motion a re-imagination of TWC’s artistic and community impact, rooted in inclusive excellence. We made improvements across the entire enterprise. We’ll soon have a new brand and visual identity. Our financial position is much improved. I hope that I am viewed as value-add to the DC regional cultural scene, and more broadly to the music and arts industry. I also hope to have contributed to some healing and reconciliation between TWC and Bob Shafer, our longtime former music director. Bob is a very special human who truly lifted as he climbed. All artists (all people,including all artists) deserve to be treated with great respect and care. TWC is in terrific shape today: financial, artistic, people, market position. I know that Eugene, the board and staff and singers, and the DC community will continue to support and shape this institution and its positive impact for years to come.
PDM: Any plans for a similar role in the future? What’s next?
SMB: The first order of business will be some time off. Is this a few weeks or a few months? I’m not sure,
but I need a minute to regroup before moving on to the next adventures. I’m especially interested in
moving to the presenting side of the house: with a performing arts center or university presenter. I
landed in classical music land mostly by accident, though I am a musician first last and always and will
treasure forever the music we have brought to life at TWC. But I’m just as passionate about theatre,
dance, film, folk and pop music, poetry, and other live and recorded art expressions. I’m committed to
continuing to mentor and support the next generations of artists and nonprofit leaders – that’s important to me, too. And I’m absolutely ready for a nap!
**Stephen’s final day as Executive Director is August 19. His impact, tenacity and above all love for TWC and the entire DC arts community will continue to be felt for days to come! Godspeed and best wishes!
**FOOTNOTE: Anthony Salvi-Exner will begin as Interim Director starting August 22.
Please feel free to extend your well-wishes to Stephen through the following social channels:
A native of Petersburg, VA, Patrick holds a BM in Vocal Performance from Virginia State University and a MM in Church Music from Shenandoah Conservatory. Formerly the Performing Arts Columnist for Washington Life Magazine, he currently is a freelance writer, publishing articles for several noted publications and organizations, including The Washington Post, Early Music America, Classical Music Voice North America, The Afro-American Newspaper, Prince George’s Suite Magazine, CBS Washington and Examiner.com. Most recently, he was named as a new contributor to Washington Classical Classical Review. He holds membership in the Music Critics Association of North America, National Association of Negro Musicians, Inc., American Choral Directors’ Association, Association of Anglican Musicians, a former member of the Shenandoah University Alumni Board of Directors, a member of the Shenandoah University Black Alumni Network and a Life Member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. Just recently he was named to the Dean’s Circle of the Shenandoah Conservatory Advisory Board. He serves as Organist/Choirmaster at Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Zion Parish in Beltsville, MD and is Interim Director of Choral Activities and Instructor of Music at Virginia State University. Visit http://patrickdmccoy.com and follow him on twitter @PatrickDMcCoy, IG: PDM06. and subscribe to “Across the Arts” on YouTube.