Our Rich choral history

ARS has been hailed by audiences throughout Southern Arizona for its choral blend, technical precision and vocal artistry. A hallmark of the ARS tradition is our commitment to presenting high quality performances of the best new choral music as well as standard repertoire – from the Renaissance to well-known choral masterpieces, Americana and jazz, contemporary pieces and works commissioned by the group.

We share the belief that there is nothing more transformative than the human voice lifted in song.

Although ARS specializes in unaccompanied a cappella choral music, many of our concerts also include larger works with orchestra and soloists, or instrumental accompaniment such as piano, harp, organ, strings, woodwinds, and percussion.

The Arizona Repertory Singers was founded in 1984 as the Arizona Recital Choir by Dennis Bonner while he was a doctoral student in Choral Conducting at the University of Arizona. The name was changed to the Arizona Repertory Singers in 1986.

ARS’s popularity and reputation for choral artistry flourished under the guidance of our Music Director for 25 years, Dr. Jeffry A. Jahn, who led the ensemble from 1990–2015. As a tribute to Dr. Jahn’s exceptional musical leadership and contribution to the life of choral arts in Tucson, following his unexpected passing he was inducted posthumously into the 2014 Tucson Musicians Museum for “proven dedication to music, support and participation in community service … that has exceeded … the expectations for the award.”

ARS flourished under Dr. Jahn. As part of ARS’s 25th Anniversary season, we performed a gala concert at the prestigious University of Arizona’s Stevie Eller Dance Theatre. The event included “Songs for Braithwaite,” a new work commissioned to honor founding ARS board member Dr. Helen S. Schaefer, by well-known contemporary choral composer Vijay Singh.

To inaugurate its 30th anniversary season as one of the oldest choral organizations in Tucson, for our holiday concerts ARS performed J. S. Bach’s festive Magnificat in D major and Respighi’s charming and vocally lush cantata, Laud to the Nativity. In the Spring, we presented Voices at an Exhibition, a choral music and artistic multimedia celebration of original commissioned compositions and original works of art by local artists who also sing with ARS. The première of this work demonstrated the relationship between choral music, written text and visual media, and was praised by the Arizona Daily Star, “The 45-voice ensemble might be setting a record of sorts; it’s not every day you find a choir – or any classical ensemble – rolling out four commissioned works in one concert.”

Our mission continued to expand under the musical direction of Thomas E. Lerew in 2015-16 and Dr. Elliot Jones from 2017-2019. Highlights included the first Tucson performances in decades of Arthur Honegger’s masterwork King David, and pieces by celebrated Tucson-area composers Daniel Asia and Gerald Near.

Under the direction of our current music director, Ryan Phillips, ARS triumphantly weathered the challenges of the COVID pandemic by producing virtual choral pieces, and became one of the first Tucson choirs to present polished performances in a brand-new medium. “Singing remotely gave the ensemble new-found musical gifts. We gained new members and learned new ways to practice,” Music Director Ryan Phillips said. The ensuing Holiday 2020 virtual choir concert and the Spring 2021 virtual concert attracted audiences from around the globe and were featured in the Arizona Daily Star.

One of the goals of ARS is to entertain, educate, and enhance the musical vitality of Tucson with free concerts that also benefit local non-profit organizations.

Those community concerts include performances at: Tucson Museum of Art during TMA’s 2019 SundAZe Family Day, San Xavier Mission for the Patronato’s effort to restore this historic landmark, University of Arizona for the dedication of the Helen S. Schaefer Poetry Center, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum for the dedication of the Harris Hawk Sculpture, the Fox Theater for Interfaith Community Services “Music for the Soul,” Carondelet Hospice Holiday “Tree of Memories” event, and the annual Music and Memories concert sponsored by the Academy for Cancer Awareness.

ARS has performed for more than 1,900 students from Tucson area Title 1 schools at the Berger Performing Arts Center through a partnership with Act One—a not-for-profit organization that engages students from underserved schools in arts learning opportunities.

AZPM Classical 90.5 regularly broadcasts ARS holiday concerts as part of its Community Concert Series, making the ensemble’s diverse choral repertoire available to Arizona radio listeners as well as people around the world via streaming audio.

The Arizona Repertory Singers is grateful to have received multi-year grant funding from the Arizona Commission on the Arts (ACA) and from the Arts Foundation for Tucson and Southern Arizona (formerly Tucson Pima Arts Council).