In October 1958, IMF Deputy Director Charles “Chick” Merwin chaired a “Meeting to Discuss Music in the Fund.” The previous December, he and Phil Thorsen, Director of Administration at the IMF, organized a group of 15 IMF staff to sing Christmas carols during the annual IMF Dance. This led to strong interest in forming a group more permanent than an annual get-together of carolers. Within a month, the IMF Chorus had 31 singers. The first non-Christmas concert took place in the spring of 1959, an evening of entertainment which included choral music in Norwegian, Czech, and German, as well as a solo recital of songs, music by a clarinet, piano, and cello trio, and solo guitar.
In 1959, World Bank and IFC staff were invited to join the IMF Chorus although the name was changed to the Fund-Bank Chorus only in 1961. Later it was known as the World Bank – International Monetary Fund Choral Society, and now, the World Bank - IMF Chorus. No matter what its name, its reach extends well beyond the Bretton Woods institutions. Members also include staff from the Bank-Fund Staff Federal Credit Union, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Organization of American States, spouses and children of staff members, retirees, and other music-lovers from the nearby community such as George Washington University and the US State Department.
In its half-century history, the Chorus has had 11 directors; some of them staff members, others, professionals in the local music community (or both). The first director was Jan Wunsch, organist and choirmaster at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. In 1960 the position was held by P.M. Jayarajan, an Alternate Executive Director from Sri Lanka. A violinist with the National Symphony Orchestra, he also founded the Bank-Fund Orchestra which performed together with the Chorus in many of its concerts.
From 1961 to 1970, the Chorus was led by Jack Upper, who brought his experience both as soloist with the Oberlin and Yale glee Clubs and as director of a church choir in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Jack, whose long career at the Bank included positions in the Industry Department, EMENA region, and EDI, retired in1985 but remains active as the longest surviving member of the Chorus. He continues to sing with the group as a tenor, and even returned as guest conductor when the Chorus sang at the World Bank’s 60th anniversary celebration.
In January 1971 Jean Tarnewiecki, the spouse of a World Bank staff member, took over the position of director. She was an experienced cellist and choral director who had conducted choruses in Peru for 23 years. Under her decade-long tenure the Bank-Fund Chorus grew to as many as 80 members. In the following 2-3 years Joya Bovingdon Cox conducted the Chorus. She was director of Singers for All Seasons, a chamber chorus within the Choral Arts Society of Washington. From 1984-88 the Chorus was led by Nevilla Ottley, a Washington-area radio show host, music teacher, and director of other choral groups. For the December 1985 Christmas concert, the internationally-acclaimed conductor Michael Morgan accepted Ms. Ottley’s invitation to be guest conductor.
In 1988 Charles Kelly, an Operations Officer with the IMF Treasurer’s Department, directed the orchestra, and in 1989 he became director of the Chorus. A computer specialist at the Fund, he was a professionally trained musician, holding a Master’s degree in Music from Florida State University, where he studied conducting for three years.
In 1993, Jenny Craley Bland stepped in. She had been a singer in the alto section (since 1974) and then the Chorus’ accompanist before becoming its music director. In addition to serving the Chorus, she led a madrigal group, Jenny and Friends, which performed lesser-known Christmas carols in the Bank’s lobbies during the holiday season. She retired from the World Bank in 1995 after over three decades working as a translator. At the same time she retired from the Chorus, but returned as its Assistant Music Director and Rehearsal Accompanist in 2003. She remains in this position while continuing numerous other musical activities in the Washington area.
When Jenny retired, the position of musical director was offered to Diana Saez, spouse of World Bank staffer Ernesto Cuadra. A native of Puerto Rico, she is the founder and artistic director of Coral Cantigas, the only chamber choir in the Washington DC metropolitan area dedicated to the performance of choral music from Spain, Latin America and the Caribbean. She has conducted a number of other choirs in the region and has won several awards for her contribution to the arts. She has a Master of Education from Harvard University and a Master of Choral Conducting from Temple University, and recently has gone back to school to work on her Doctorate in Musical Arts at the University of Maryland.
After the long tenure of Diana, Sonya Sutton was chosen to fill the position of music director in 2012 and continues to lead the chorus to this day. She received her education at the College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati, earning Bachelor and Master degrees in Piano Performance, and a second Masters in Arts Administration. For more than 25 years Sonya has served as organist and choirmaster at several churches. Currently she is Director of Music (Organist and Choir Director) for St. Alban's Episcopal Church in Washington DC.
In addition to its twice-yearly concerts, the Chorus has performed at a number of special occasions at the World Bank, such as the Memorial Service for former Bank President Lewis Preston in 1995, the Bank’s end-of-fiscal-year and 60thanniversary celebration in June 2004, Staff Week, and the May 2005 program honoring former Bank President James Wolfensohn upon his retirement. Incidentally, Mr. Wolfensohn, a strong supporter of the performing arts, was guest cellist in the December 2004 concert of the Chorus, which featured Gloria in D by Antonio Vivaldi.
Outside of the World Bank, IFC and IMF, in years past the Chorus has sung at Children’s Hospital, the Western Presbyterian Church, the State Department, St. John’s Church (Lafayette Square), the Treasury Department, St. Paul’s Church K Street, the Inter-American Development Bank, Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Bethesda, the Church of the Immaculate Conception at 8th and N St., the United Church on G St., the Veterans Medical Center, and at the Kennedy Center’s 1985 Holiday Festival.
The Chorus repertoire is as varied as its membership. Among the many works in its 100+ programs over the last few decades are compositions such as Mozart’s Requiem, Gloria by Vivaldi, Carmina Burana by Carl Orff, Mass in G by Schubert, Christmas Oratorio by Bach, semi-staged productions of Iolanthe and The Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert and Sullivan, an all-Russian concert, opera choruses, Broadway music, and folk songs and Christmas carols from around the world. Accompanying musicians have included the Bank-Fund Orchestra composed of staff members, music students from Catholic University and the University of Maryland, and professional instrumentalists from the Washington area.