Volunteer of the Month

February 2021

Penny Lazarus

Penny has been a member of the Newburyport Choral Society since 2020, starting under the baton of Gerald Weale, the same year she moved to Newburyport with her husband and two young boys.  She also sings with the Berkshire Choral Festival in the summer, which performs throughout the U.S. and in Europe.  Penny’s involvement in the arts extends also to local music theatre and classical voice recitals.  For anyone who knows Penny (and who doesn’t!), she is a dynamo – always volunteering to help out, and help out she does at NCS.

When speaking of NCS, Penny states:  “I cannot imagine my life without the Newburyport Choral Society.  No matter how long my life’s list of professional activities or hobbies might be, there is nothing quite as satisfying as having one’s voice blend and meld with 130 fellow choristers so that the joy of singing is 130 times greater than any one voice alone.  NCS is a place where lifelong friends are made and difference disappears; each singer brings his/her/their unique voice, but we listen; to each other as well as to ourselves for our aim is to better the sum of all of our parts.”

Penny’s educational background includes two undergraduate degrees (music and psychology), a master’s degree in Art History, and work completed toward a Ph.D. in the Philosophy of Arts  – all from the University of Pittsburgh.  She also has a National Certification in Teaching Music, an education degree, and maintains a thriving 45-student piano studio in Newburyport at her home.  When the pandemic hit a year ago, Penny kept her piano studio going by learning through trial and error how to successfully continue her student piano lessons virtually.

As an avid writer, Penny has many published articles on music, gender and race.  The spark for her most recent article, published in 2021, came about when she realized that her students were unable to name an admired woman composer for the simple reason that they didn’t know any.  She and her students soon determined that this was likely due to the fact that women did not appear in the music anthologies for young students.  This led Penny and her students on a year-long search to identify historic, accomplished women composers. To read Penny’s very insightful article on this issue, click on the following link: Winter 2021: Becoming Weavers: Piano Students and Their Commissioned Arrangements of Music by Under-Represented Women Composers – Piano Magazine.

Penny’s volunteer work at NCS is extensive. Penny served on the NCS Board of Directors for 8 years as Development Director and was instrumental in significantly increasing both ads and business sponsorships in this role.  She was on the Music Committee for 10 years and also participated on both Music Director Committee searches that recommended our two most recent Directors: George Case and Ryan Turner.  Penny also serves as the Alto section leader, a position that she has had for the past 10 years, and has taught music reading and theory classes to her fellow singers. Additionally, Penny has participated in many NCS fundraisers including serving on the Auction Team that produced our recent, and very successful, first auction!  She is also the face behind NCS’s Facebook and Instagram posts.  Of all the NCS volunteer work Penny has been involved with, she has relayed that she is most proud of her work raising money to create a granite bench and planting of a Horse chestnut tree installation for the Nock Middle School on behalf of NCS’s concert of James Whitbourn’s Annalies from the Diary of Anne Frank in Spring of 2017.

During a recent WJOP interview with Mary Jacobson, Ryan summed up how many of us feel about Penny when he referred to her as a “treasure for NCS” and stated that “…she’s like an onion as we keep peeling layers back and learn more and more about Penny’s rich knowledge and experience.”  Ryan goes on to credit Penny for finding “…a way to weave together a theme for the Spring semester…that addresses how numerous groups have been marginalized over time…and how have they continued to sing…”, hence the theme “How Can I Keep From Singing?”.

A sincere thank you Penny for all that you do.  You are indeed a treasure for NCS!