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Live, laugh and sing, but don’t say goodbye

Associate Director of DCS Rhonda Muckerman and Artistic Director Linda Mack Berven perform at the annual Cabaret on Sunday at Fort Lewis College. (Courtesy of Judith Reynolds)

Last Sunday, the Durango Choral Society celebrated another successful year with a festive party. Simply titled, “Live, Laugh, Love: Cabaret,” the dinner, drinks, schmoozing and musical potpourri rollicked on in the Fort Lewis College ballroom despite late afternoon rain.

And, some big news was made public: 2023 will be Linda Mack Berven’s final year as artistic director.

“I’m not going anywhere,” she said during intermission. “I’ll still be singing and participating in a lot of things. I just don’t want to be in charge anymore.”

That was a relief to many who consider Mack Berven the Pied Piper of Durango, teaching at FLC and taking over the reins of the Choral Society from Diane Van Den Berg more than two decades ago. She’s reconfigured the cultural landscape of our community by adding the Durango Women’s Choir, encouraging the development of the Children’s Choir, appearing in stage productions for Merely Players, and serving as conductor of the Santa Fe Chorale for a time in our neighboring state.

The Durango Women’s Choir sings “Alley Cat Love Song.” (Courtesy of Judith Reynolds)

“I’m never bored,” Mack Berven is famous for saying. And she will prove that every week of her so-called retirement.

Her able colleague, Rhonda Muckerman, associate director of the Choral Society, will continue in her current role through 2023 and then step up as artistic director in January 2024. The succession has been planned for some time. Muckerman recently conducted the March and April DCS concerts. She also sings in and shares conducting responsibilities with Mack Berven in the Women’s Choir. The collaboration has been clear for some time and immanently apparent at the Cabaret.

In addition to the ensemble performances by the Women’s Choir and the Durango Chamber Singers, conducted by Elizabeth Crawford, soloists included tenor Wesley Dunnagan, baritone Nathan Van Arsdale, mezzos Drea Pressley and Lucy Johnson, and a duet by Christine and Tom Richards,

Mack Berven and Kyle Osborne opened the program with a tongue-in-cheek piano-four-hands interpretation of “Chop Sticks.” Their light-hearted contribution was picked up later by Kent Norgren, when he invoked Tom Lehrer’s off-kilter satire about spring.

The Durango Chamber Singers dance their way through “Stray Cat Strut.” (Courtesy of Judith Reynolds)

At the end, after a delicious buffet dinner brimming with wine, the evening concluded. Mack Berven thanked everyone for coming and made a not-so-subtle exit.

“I’m going downtown immediately after the Cabaret,” she said earlier. “I’m auditioning for the DAC summer production of ‘Bye, Bye Birdie.’”

Never bored. Mack Berven is also scheduled to give her fun-filled pre-concert summer lectures for Music in the Mountains.

So, relax, everyone, the inimitable keeper of the cultural flame carries on. And you can expect to see Mack Berven at all the concerts by the Durango Choral Society in 2023-24.

Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.