Tim Sawyer

It’s hard to believe this year is the 25th anniversary of the Two Rivers Chorale and my 19th season as artistic director and conductor! I heard the Two Rivers Chorale for the first time at Benson Great Hall at Bethel back in 2000. I had known the group’s founding director Bruce Phelps from his years at Anoka High School. I still remember the concert vividly. As I listened to them sing, I was immediately taken with the rich sound of adult voices singing with the precision and clarity of a top-notch college choir, still capturing the passion and love one hopes for and expects from dedicated amateur singers. It was clear they loved singing together, they loved choral music and that this was more than your “average” community chorus. Indeed it is! As I took the helm of TRC in 2004, little did I know how much this ensemble would enrich my life. As director of choral activities at the University of Northwestern-St. Paul, and Choir Director at Colonial Church in Edina at that time, I was not looking for another choir to direct. Something compelled me to apply, and it has been such a rewarding journey. We recently performed our anniversary concerts, “This is Why We Sing!” to enthusiastic capacity audiences celebrating with us. What a joy that was!

In these past almost two decades, we have made some amazing music together. We have laughed together, grieved together, grown together, loved singing together – all under the “spell” of so much glorious choral music. I have so enjoyed the challenges of seeing TRC grow into an independent, self-sustaining organization as we have endeavored to enhance and expand the tradition of Minnesota choral excellence this group represents and to share the TRC’s mission with the Twin Cities and greater Minnesota. We are committed to honoring our past and our traditions, but it is being on that journey of “what comes next?” that is half the excitement! What continues to inspire me about the TRC is our quest to do what our founding conductor envisioned:

” … to taste the excitement, the drama, and the beauty that exists in making music and … to share that with friends who love to sing.”

We have done just that for the past 25 years!

Our Mission:

We come together to delight in the beauty and transforming power of the art of choral singing. 

Our Goal:

Together we create fulfilling musical experiences for a growing and appreciative audience and for ourselves and the joy of making music together as a choral community.

Our Vision:

We are proud to be a community choir. Through studying, rehearsing, and performing a diverse repertoire of music, we strive for high artistic achievement and enjoyment. Our concerts can vary dramatically from one season to the next, bringing a wide variety to the experience and the excitement of seeing “what’s next?!”

Since embarking on an International tour to England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales in 2003, TRC has performed mostly throughout Minnesota – from the Twin Cities to the Iron Range, from Duluth to Rochester, for ACDA-MN (2001, 2007, 2014, 2024) and for the Byzantine Choral Festival. We have been fortunate to perform under the baton of distinguished conductors such as the late Henry Charles Smith, Mack Wilberg, Yuri Ivan, Marlene Pauley, Christina Yi-Ping Chen-Beyers, and Sergey Bogza. In recent years, TRC has collaborated in major works with the Wayzata Symphony and the Edina Chorale (Brahms Requiem, Vaughan Williams Dona Nobis Pacem, Verdi Requiem), Kenwood Symphony (opera and sacred music of Verdi), Mesabi Symphony and Voices of Reason (Brahms Requiem), Mississippi Valley Orchestra and Chorus Polaris (Mendelssohn Hymn of Praise, Brahms Schicksalslied), and the Northwestern Choir (music of Leland Sateren and Knut Nystedt). We have also performed joint collaboration programs with East Central Minnesota Chorale and Unum Vox, Great River Chorale and Youth Chorale of Central Minnesota, District 279 Children’s Choir, the Twin Cities Youth Choir, and From Age to Age chamber choir. Other highlights in TRC’s history include releasing the compact disc “My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord ” and a Christmas disc entitled “Yuletide Treasures” with Minnesota guitarist and composer Jeffrey Van, featuring many of his beloved compositions. The ensemble has recently had the privilege to collaborate with several distinguished Minnesota concert organists including Christopher Ganza (Duruflé Requiem), Bill Chouinard (program of British Cathedral Music), and Leonard Danek (Rutter Gloria, Duruflé Requiem).

Thanks to a generous donation from his family as a memorial, the John Kadlec Commissioning Fund was established on behalf of TRC, which has resulted in the following significant commissions and premiere performances: 

“Illuminare” by Elaine Hagenberg, a five-movement major work for choir, soloists and orchestra, together with a commissioning consortium of nine community choirs from across the United States. Premiered 2022. https://www.elainehagenberg.com/illuminare 

“Prayer of Mother Theresa” by Craig Courtney for chorus and piano – Beckenhorst Press, BP2203. Premiered 2018  https://beckenhorstpress.com/prayer-of-mother-teresa/

“I Lift Up My Eyes” by Linda Tutas-Haugen, a unique and hauntingly beautiful setting of Psalm 121 for choir, harp and Native American (or alto) flute. Published by Ephraim Bay Publishing, Graphite Publishing. Premiered 2011. https://on.soundcloud.com/zHVAcqPp6Dn9k3Kr5 

“O Crux Splendidior” by John Orfe, for a cappella choir and solo trombone in a joint commission with the Northwestern Choir (University of Northwestern – St. Paul) Available in manuscript. Premiered 2009, 2010. jorfe@fumcpeoria.org

I am so grateful to the hundreds of singers who have participated in Two Rivers Chorale in the past two decades plus, and I look forward to what the future holds for our ensemble, beginning with my own 20th anniversary this coming season. We plan to continue to explore building relationships with composers to commission new choral works, to engage in new and exciting musical collaborations, to bring our music beyond the borders of the state of Minnesota, and to continue to welcome new members into our ensemble. The future looks bright! “How can we keep from singing?”

About Timothy Sawyer

Two Rivers Chorale artistic director and conductor Timothy Sawyer has led this ensemble since 2004. He has enjoyed a long and active career as a conductor, educator and professional singer following formal musical training at Eden Prairie High School, Bethel University (St. Paul), Exeter University (England), the University of Minnesota and in DMA-level study at the University of Iowa. He has done advanced conducting studies and coaching with Helmuth Rilling, Eric Ericson, Margaret Hillis, Vance George, Gregg Smith, William Hatcher and Robert Berglund. In addition to extensive experience as a tenor soloist, he is a veteran of several professional choirs himself, among them the Dale Warland Singers, the Ensemble Singers of VocalEssence under Philip Brunelle, the Grammy™ nominated South Dakota Chorale, Evangelion Chorale, Omaha’s SDG Cantorum, Montana Chorale, Minnesota Beethoven Festival Chorale, and the Oregon Bach Festival Chorus, with which he shared in a collective Grammy™ award for the recording of Krzysztof Penderecki’s Credo in 2000

Since 1989, Sawyer has been a member of the music faculty at University of Northwestern-St. Paul where he is director of choral activities and professor of music. At UNW, he conducts the Northwestern Choir which recently toured and performed throughout England, including in Westminster Abbey, in an evensong at Cambridge’s Selwyn College under the direction of John Rutter and Sarah MacDonald, and at Oxford’s Christ Church Cathedral, among others. 

Sawyer has been on the artistic faculty for conducting master classes at the University of Minnesota, the Toronto and Oregon Bach Festivals assisting Helmuth Rilling, and throughout music academies in Ukraine. He has held an ongoing position as guest conductor with the Byzantine Choral Festival in Northeast Minneapolis since 2011, and is a long-time board member and adjunct faculty member with Music in World Cultures (www.miwc.org), a faith-based organization which uses music to break down barriers and build bridges to establish cross-cultural relationships throughout the world, especially in Ukraine, the Baltic States and on the African continent. Active as a festival conductor, he has led over 85 choral festivals, and choirs under his direction have been heard in concerts, tours and in radio broadcasts throughout the United States, South America, the Baltic states, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, and Asia. He is currently tenor senior choral scholar at Christ Presbyterian Church in Edina and can often also be found cantoring for masses and singing Gregorian chant throughout the Twin Cities. He lives in suburban Minneapolis with his wife Heidi and is the proud father of two grown daughters and a new son-in-law. timothyksawyer@gmail.com