Founded January 1927
The Oratorio Society of Queens, originally known as the Oratorio Society of Flushing, was founded in 1927. The idea of a community-based mixed voice chorus, dedicated to sharing the aesthetic values oratorio music expresses, was conceived by Mrs. Edward Keefe as Queens’ answer to the Oratorio Society of New York. Mrs. Keefe was initially assisted by John W. Norton, organist and choirmaster of St. George’s Episcopal Church and Edward M. Franklin, a leading layman of the church.
The charter members were an enthusiastic and dedicated group drawn from Flushing’s several old, prominent families, among the most esteemed and respected in New York City. In keeping with the democratic spirit historically associated with Flushing, membership was open to all. Among other members was Bertha Parsons, the last owner-resident of Bowne House before it was opened as a museum of early Flushing. On May 12, 1927 a chorus of 100 voices directed by John Norton performed Mendelssohn’s “Hymn of Praise” to critical acclaim before an audience of 900 at Flushing High School. The Oratorio Society’s characteristic feeling of good fellowship and loyalty started at inception and continued throughout.
There would be carol-singing at Flushing Hospital, after which the singers would sing at a founder’s home and partake of a lovely party in the festively decorated house. Local merchants provided financial support and articles for door prizes at fundraising events. The Oratorio Society was supported by member dues, subscribers, bake sales and fundraising dinners. Mrs. Maude Wilson was made an honorary member in the early 1930’s because she contributed the entire proceeds of her Annual Party and Dahlia Flower Show to the Oratorio Society. Fundraising was always a necessity even though concert accompaniment was originally by organ or piano.
The chorus, subsequently conducted by Herbert Sammond, and later by Lawrence Rasmussen, performed two major concerts a year until 1943, when Mr. Rasmussen was called to service in World War II. Rehearsals were suspended until 1946 when Mr. Rasmussen returned. David Katz (founder of the Queens Symphony) succeeded Mr. Rasmussen in ensuing years, dispelling the notion that the works of the great masters are too deep and profound for the average person to understand and appreciate. By the Oratorio Society’s 75th anniversary in 2003, Maestro David Close had, for thirty years, successfully continued the traditions established by the founding members.
The expansion to full orchestra accompaniment with professional vocal soloists created the need for increased funding. Although continuing its annual Fundraising Dinner each April, Oratorio Society depends upon grants from corporate and public funds in addition to traditional ticket sales and subscriptions.
In 1985 the Society changed its name to the Oratorio Society of Queens (OSQ) in recognition of membership deriving from all parts of Queens. The entire Borough was learning that one need not travel to Manhattan for classical music, one could go to St. Andrew Avellino Church, the Reformed Temple of Forest Hills, Trinity Lutheran Church, Christ the King High School, Flushing Meadows - Corona Park under the Unisphere, Seuffert Bandshell in Forest Park, Bayside High School, Colden Center or various venues in Brooklyn and Long Island. The Oratorio Society appeared at the 1940 World’s Fair and in later years at Lincoln Center. For its 50th anniversary, Queens Symphony asked OSQ to partner with them to perform Verdi’s "Requiem" at the Queensborough Performing Arts Center.
OSQ’s reputation for near professional sound and attitude has garnered the respect of all who have heard the group. At weekly rehearsals Maestro Close has carefully trained the group of amateur singers to achieve excellence. Drawn from all sectors of society, the common bond of love of music keeps all members united in purpose. Members come from Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx and even Nassau County. The roster includes active and retired educators, lawyers, health professionals, engineers, homemakers, secretaries, writers, librarians, artists and actors, people from all walks of New York City life. In addition to singing a high percentage of members commit themselves to the demanding administrative and fundraising tasks required to maintain the momentum necessary to ensure the success of each concert season.