After 25 years leading the Durango Choral Society, Linda Mack Berven has decided to change-up, as young people say. Word got out that she was retiring after the annual holiday concert on Dec. 3. Not true.
“I’ve reflected on my life in music, and I needed a change,” she said recently. “Our December concert is not a farewell, I’m in transition.”
Mack Berven took over the reins of the Durango Choral Society in the late 1990s. Then, as now, she managed to juggle two big commitments that would sink most other people.
While serving as a full-time faculty member in the Fort Lewis College Music Department, she stepped up to be the artistic director of the Choral Society. The Durango Herald covered that transition when she famously told this reporter: “I’m never bored.” And she’s become famous for that remark ever since.
“I’ve enjoyed conducting more than 120 concerts and programming more than 1,000 choral pieces,” she said. She’s also organized performances outside Durango – way outside Durango – New York City and Florence, Italy, for example.
WHAT: “Sparkling Lights: A Joyful Celebration,” The Durango Choral Society, Linda Mack Berven, artistic director.
WHEN: 3 p.m. Dec. 3.
WHERE: Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College, 1000 Rim Drive.
TICKETS: $25 general, $5 students and children. Available online at www.durangoconcerts.com, by phone at 247-7657 and at the door.
MORE INFORMATION: Visit www.durangochoralsociety.org.
“We’ve been to Carnegie Hall, Hawaii and several countries in Europe,” she said. “We’ve performed with regional and international orchestras. We’ve won a national award for a world premiere, and we remained viable through the pandemic. The Durango Choral Society has much to be proud of.”
No organization thrives as DCS has without a charismatic and hardworking leader. Mack Berven has changed the musical landscape in Durango and the Four Corners in many ways, and like every intelligent and thoughtful leader, she has ensured the future of the Choral Society by finding and cultivating a worthy leader to follow her.
For the last two years, Mack Berven has been working closely with Rhonda Muckerman, who will take over the general leadership of the Society.
“I’m interested in the longevity of the Choral Society,” Mack Berven said. “We made it through the pandemic and came roaring back. I’ve had the luxury of working alongside Rhonda for two years, two complete concert cycles, and she’s ready to step into the role. The singers like her. We all trust her, and I will be merely assisting her in other capacities.”
All of that is good news for musicians and music lovers.
“I’m not leaving. I’ll be singing. I’ll conduct occasionally. I’ll do clinics for singers,” she said. “I’ll be a pianist as needed, or you might be seated next to me in the audience.”
Two recent surprises have also extended Mack Berven’s creative life: a nomination as Best Supporting Actor in a 2023 production of “Bye Bye Birdie,” by Denver’s affiliation with Broadway World; and an invitation by MidAmerican Productions to conduct the Vivaldi “Gloria in D Major” on June 4, 2025. In Florence, Italy.
“That invitation just came through,” she said. “We were scheduled to travel to Florence when the pandemic hit, so we had to cancel. MidAmerican Productions revived the program, and I’m invited back.”
None of this looks like retirement. Mack Berven never has nor will she ever be bored.
All four groups of Linda Mack Berven’s Durango Choral Society will participate in “Sparkling Lights: A Joyful Celebration.” And for a jazzy preshow, arrive early at the Community Concert Hall on Dec. 3.
The Durango Jazz Combo will perform in the lobby to get everyone in the holiday spirit. Greet the inimitable Jeff Solon, Eli Emmitt, Hance Langley and Iz Tenorio for an upbeat prelude to the concert.
At 3 p.m., Mack Berven and company will unspool traditional family holiday fare. Be prepared to sing with everyone as “Joy to the World” opens the concert. The Durango Women’s Choir and Youth Choirs will spin out “Hodie Christus Natus Est” and other works. Soprano Gemma Kavanagh will perform solo duties for the most asked for music of all time: “O Holy Night.”
The concert will include two upbeat popular holiday songs: “Jingle Bells” and “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.” And in a perfect Mack Berven gesture, she has invited DCS alumni to sing “Do You Hear What I Hear?” with all of the singers. It’s a reunion that required thoughtful outreach and a special rehearsal – just the kind of warm gesture for which Mack Berven is known.
Santa will be available on stage for photos with children and grown-ups after the concert ends.
This is Mack Berven’s way of making a transition. And, by the way, Dec. 3, happens to be her 70th birthday. Let’s celebrate.
Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.