Eighteen months after their longtime music director died, Arizona Repertory Singers have found Jeffry Jahn’s replacement.
Elliot Jones, who earned his doctoral degree in choral directing from the University of Arizona and has led community choirs in Delaware and taught at universities in Delaware, Missouri and Pennsylvania, was named ARS music director late last month.
He takes the baton from Thomas Lerew, the interim director who picked up the pieces of the 2015-16 season following Jahn’s untimely death in February 2015.
Jones will lead the 48-member ensemble in programs that mine the canon of choral music. But he is equally enamored and a champion of new choral works, pieces composed in the past two to five years, many of which have never been heard in Tucson, he said.
“I’m tilting the balance a little more toward new music than what ARS has done before and they are in agreement,” said Jones, who said he would like to see the choir perform in new community settings including Green Valley, Oro Valley, Sahuarita and beyond.
“It is the Arizona Repertory Singers, after all, not the Tucson Repertory Singers,” he explained. “I’m thinking we could travel statewide and even further” including to New York City.
At the group’s annual and popular December concert series at the Benedictine Monastery, Arizona Repertory Singers will perform four new compositions. They have several new works on the program next spring, as well, he said.
“That’s what I am most excited about and that’s what the board and the singers are most excited about is that we’re doing this new music in addition to the classics,” he said.
Jones is no stranger to Tucson. He has worked with Arizona Onstage Productions in several productions including “Les Miserables” and “Master Class.” He also is a Thursday night regular at Old Town Artisans’ Dusty Monk Pub, where Jones launched the piano bar. Pianists are invited to perform a wide range of music from jazz to classical.
“Each of us does a different thing,” he said. His niche is to perform almost as an accompanist to vocalists, including singers from Reveille Men’s Chorus, True Concord and Helios Ensemble.
“Some of the pianists think of themselves as solo pianist and that’s what they do,” he said. “I think of myself as a collaborator with singers.”
Jones said he wants to build on Arizona Repertory Singers’ 30-plus-year history of presenting classical and contemporary choral works.
“Part of what attracted me to the position is the repertoire they do,” he said, adding that while the choir will continue “doing Handel, Mozart, Bruckner and Brahms,” it also will introduce really new works. In the spring, Arizona Repertory Singers will perform a piece so new it has yet to be published, he said.
But Jones said he will be selective with the new works he programs. He is looking for pieces that have “the chance to become part of the repertoire.”
“I think the name ‘Repertory Singers’ guides me that way,” he said.
“I don’t want to change what (ARS) does unless I’m certain it’s going to be a change for the better, and even that change is not that radical,” he said.
In addition to his job with the singers, Jones is director of music at Church of the Apostles in Oro Valley.