Chorus of Westerly picks new director

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In the 54th year, George Kent rested - and Andrew Howell stepped in.

After a unanimous decision by its board of directors, the Chorus of Westerly announced in a press release Thursday night that it has chosen Andrew Howell to succeed Kent - who announced his retirement last June - as the beloved music ensemble's new, and second-ever music director. Howell assumes his new post on July 1.

It's a full-circle moment for Howell, a Rhode Island native and member of the University of Rhode Island's music faculty, given that he is a former child and teenage singer in the chorus.

"I am absolutely thrilled that Andrew Howell has accepted the position and will be joining us as our next music director," Daniel Van Winkle, president of the Chorus, said in a statement. "After a very thoughtful and extensive search process, as well as a very intense audition process, it was crystal clear that Andrew is the right person to be our next music director. His energy, talent and ability will be a catalyst for the Chorus of Westerly's future success."

Howell, who serves as director for the URI University Chorus and is organist and choirmaster at St. James Episcopal Church in New London, joined the Chorus of Westerly when he was 12 years old. He sang with the group through his graduation from Westerly High School, returned to the chorus during his collegiate years, and has been with the group since. He also serves as music director and organist during the summer months at the Watch Hill Chapel, and is co-founder of the Eastern Connecticut Children's Chorus.

After Kent announced his retirement, a selection committee comprised of current chorus members, board members and parents began a national search for a replacement. Applicants came from across the U.S. and Canada. After months of screening and interviews, finalists were brought in last month to work with chorus singers over a four-day stretch. Kent and Ryan Saunders, executive director of the chorus, served as advisory members of the selection committee.

"I am incredibly excited and energized by Andrew Howell's appointment," Saunders said in a statement. "He is an exceptionally talented individual and will help us reach amazing new levels as an organization. The sky is the limit."

Howell's first season will commence in September. Kent will continue as music director through the Summer Pops concert in June.

r.koster@theday.com

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