Person of the Week
Steve Bruce: Sing, Sing, Sing
Steve Bruce, Con Brio’s founding principal conductor, will lead the chorus in its 25th Anniversary Concert on Friday, Dec. 10 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 12. (Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier)
Steve Bruce has done the same thing at Christmas for the last 25 years. It’s goes beyond the obvious—decorating the tree, opening presents, enjoying a holiday meal. For the past quarter of a century, Steve has conducted the Con Brio Choral Society’s annual Christmas Concert, this year on Friday, Dec. 10 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 12 at 3 p.m. at Christ the King Church in Old Lyme.
This is the 25th anniversary of the singing group’s founding and no one else has ever been the Con Brio’s principal conductor.
Steve has also conducted a variety of other vocal ensembles including both college and church groups. In addition, Steve plays the electric bass with the New Horizons Band of the Community Music School in Centerbrook.
For the holiday concert, Con Brio will present favorite pieces it has performed over its 25-year history. The program will include three Glorias that represent three different eras of musical composition: Bach’s 17th-century Baroque, a 19th-century interpretation from Italian composer Gioachino Rossini, and a Gloria by contemporary British composer John Rutter.
The Bach selection comes from the composer’s B Minor mass, which Steve describes as “one of the greatest pieces of music in the Western canon.” The performance includes not only Con Brio’s singers but an orchestra as well.
Rossini, Steve points out, is best known for his operas, of which he wrote 39. Not surprisingly, Steve describes his Gloria as more operatic.
“It exudes drama; it is an exciting piece,” he says.
Steve says Rutter, whose works Con Brio has performed before, has been very popular with its audiences.
In addition to the Glorias, the concert will include two pieces that Con Brio sang at it first concert in December 1997, the “Shepherd’s Pipe Carol” and “Hodie Christus Natus Est.”
In addition, the concert also includes familiar carols with the audience participation.
Con Brio’s beginnings were in local summer choral program, Summer Sings. Steve led one of the summer sessions and a number of the participants wanted to form an auditioned chorus that would sing during the rest of the year. Steve was asked to conduct it.
Vocal training, according to Steve, is not necessary for those who would like to audition for Con Brio but experience in choral singing is extremely helpful.
“There is magic in choral music. People sing who wouldn’t want to sing alone,” he says.
Despite the emphasis on Con Brio choral favorites for the upcoming concert, the very first piece in the concert is something completely new, a premiere of a composition that Con Brio commissioned from William Thomas, director of Music Ministries at Christ the King and a retired associate music director at Goodspeed.
Thomas’s piece is instrumental, not choral. It will be performed by brass players and timpani while the chorus, as is its tradition, marches in from the back of the church to the risers in the front. Steve says that Con Brio entrance is timed to fit the approximately two minutes Thomas’s piece will take.
Thomas wrote this music during the election campaign of 2020. He says the composition takes account of the divisions that persist within the country.
“It is not about red or blue but it is a turbulent time,” he says. “Some of the music is pretty dissonant, but freedom triumphs. The American heart yearns for freedom. This is a fanfare for freedom.”
Steve attributes his interest in choral music and choral conducting to teachers in junior high and high school in Greenwich, where he grew up. He majored in music at Davidson college, and he was also in ROTC, so after graduation he went into the Army. He requested a posting where he could use his musical training. Nonetheless, he was sent to Germany as a supply managing officer.
He left the army after three years with the rank of captain and earned a doctorate in music at the University of Oregon. He taught in college for three years before deciding on another career path.
Steve attended an MBA program at New York University designed for people who already had advanced degrees in the humanities. He got a job at Bloomingdale’s but decided it was not a good fit. He happened to be in a NYU career counselor’s office when the counselor got a telephone call about recruiting. The caller asked the counselor to “send up one of those business guys.” Steve recalls what happened next: “I hopped on the subway. Two weeks later I was working at SCM.”
Much of Steve’s professional career was in writing and publishing, some of it with his own company where he wrote a daily human resources newsletter that had some 250,000 subscribers.
“Working full time, especially for a daily newsletter, is relentless,” he says.
Relentless no more. Three years ago, Steve retired. He and his wife Abby, whom he met at a summer musical program when he was in high school, contemplated a move to Asheville, North Carolina. But Steve, who has had both sail and power boats, decided against it.
“Too far from the water,” he concluded.
Con Brio’s 25th Anniversary Concert
Con Brio holds performances of its 25th Anniversary Concert on Friday, Dec. 10 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 12 at 3 p.m. at Christ the King Church, 1 McCurdy Road, Old Lyme. For tickets call 860-526-5399 or visit conbrio.org. Masks and proof of vaccination are required.