Frances Motyca Dawson founded Columbia Pro Cantare (CPC) in 1977 to provide performance opportunities for Howard County singers and to bring quality musical experiences to Howard County audiences. In 1980, the chorus appeared with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, under Sergiu Comissiona, in the nationally-televised opening of Harborplace. For 39 years, CPC has presented the classics of the choral repertory (Handel, Mozart, Verdi, Dvořák, Mendelssohn, to name a few), rarely-heard choral music of the 17th through 20th centuries, several world and American premieres, and over twenty works it has commissioned, including An American Odyssey (The Triumph of the Irish Immigrant) by Irish composer Mary McAuliffe.
The chorus has a tradition of presenting ethnically diverse music in both classical and folk forms, in original languages, with traditional instruments, and treating its attendees to post-concert receptions of food from those cultures. Its unique and world-expanding contributions to the regional musical scene have included an all-Hungarian program, Polish choral music of four centuries, and concerts of rarely-performed Czech masterpieces. On October 28, 1998, Columbia Pro Cantare was honored to present a concert of Czech music at the Washington National Cathedral to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of Czechoslovakia in 1918. Other ethnic concerts include “Music of Jewish Traditions (2001),” “Music of African American Artists (2002),” and most recently, “Music of Spain and Latin America (2013),” and in October, 2015, the “Northern Lights” concert featuring music from Scandinavia. Pre-concert lectures on the composers and music, presented by noted musicologists, have increased the audience’s enjoyment and knowledge.
Columbia Pro Cantare has been privileged to perform in several significant events, including “Hail Columbia” the celebration of Columbia’s 20th Birthday (1987), with Columbia’s founder, James Rouse, narrating Copland’s Lincoln Portrait. In 1997, CPC was featured in the inaugural concert of its home venue, The Jim Rouse Theatre for the Performing Arts in Columbia, MD. On June 15, 2007, a group of 55 members of Columbia Pro Cantare joined the Minnesota Dance Theatre in a much-praised, captivating staged production of Carmina Burana for The Columbia Festival of the Arts. In 2011, CPC performed in the 200th anniversary of Old Brick, the original church house of Christ Episcopal Church in Columbia, featuring local composer and Peabody professor Tom Benjamin’s commissioned work, Old Brick Oratorio.
CPC has also featured lesser known composers, and was proud to perform as part of The Year of the Woman (2015), a March concert by women composers, featuring Amy Beach’s Mass in E-flat. The chorus has also performed music of contemporary composers, including The Twelve Months by Peter Schickele (aka PDQ Bach), Libby Larsen’s Seven Ghosts, and most recently, David Lang’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Little Match Girl Passion.