When Janice L. Mayer stepped down from her post as the Santa Fe Desert Chorale’s executive director earlier this year, the board of directors went just up the hill on the highway heading north toward the Santa Fe Opera, where Emma Marzen was serving as board liaison. They had found their replacement.
Marzen had arrived in Santa Fe four years earlier, having just graduated from the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music, to become the chorale’s box-office manager. Some staff departures gave her the opportunity to advance to the company’s assistant director position before making the move to the opera.
Why return to a smaller, less well-known group so quickly? “Choral music and singing were my first love,” Marzen says. “As a child, I would always sing, trying to match the cantors at church. My parents aren’t strongly musically oriented, but I have an Irish grandmother who was always singing little jigs, which instilled a love for it in me.”
In taking the reins at the chorale, the 26-year-old Marzen is almost certainly the youngest leader of a major local arts group. In broad terms, her primary task is bringing the fundraising, marketing, and administrative functions up to the level that is achieved in the group’s performances. “My vision is to provide the means to further develop our artistic product.”
Like many arts groups, the chorale achieves small surpluses in some years and incurs small deficits in others, operating without the safety net of reserve funds or an endowment. Marzen and a board committee will be spearheading a new planned giving campaign to help secure the organization’s financial sustainability.
But monetary donations aren’t the only way to support the chorale, she says. “Provide housing for one of our singers in the summer! It’s a four- to five-week commitment, and the people who are doing it now just love it. For the chorale, it would have an immediate ‘four-figure’ impact on the bottom line, so it’s just like making a major gift.”
In the area of marketing, she is intrigued by the opportunities inherent in the heritage of group singing. “So many of us sang in choirs during high school, but as people get older, they often seem to lose that connection,” she says. “The chorale started to address this with a project that brings more than 170 community members together every year for a daylong vocal workshop. I want to find more ways to tap into that innate joy we felt as kids when we danced and sang.”