Meet A Member: Mary Henriques, Pensacola Children's Chorus

Each month, Chorus America president and CEO Catherine Dehoney sits down to have a conversation over the phone with one of our members. This January, she spoke with Mary Henriques, executive director of the Pensacola Children's Chorus.

You didn’t start your career in the arts. How did you get into choral music?

My husband and I had a small technology firm that we ran for 22 years. Eventually he went into the financial industry because that was where his heart really was, and I stayed with the business for a few more years. I found a position as a bookkeeper at the local community theater in 2006 and grew through a number of positions there. In 2014 I was contacted by a board member here at the Children’s Chorus.

I was very much very much drawn to this program because I knew of its history and its legacy, the impact that it has on the children, and the love that the people in this community have for this program. It’s overwhelming. You cannot go anywhere in Northwest Florida and talk to anybody whose life has not been touched by this chorus.

I wasn’t sure that I wanted to make that jump, but I decided to throw my hat in the ring. When I was offered this position, I knew that I wanted to be part of something that made a difference in this community. It’s been a wonderful opportunity, and I think I was prepared for it, coming from an arts organization that I’ve found was facing a lot of the same challenges as the Chorus.

You’re in the midst of a search to find a successor for your founding artistic directors, Allen and Susan Pote. Tell us about what that process has been like.

A few years ago, the board realized that the organization would have to face this transition when the Potes retired—probably before long—so we did have a strategy in place for looking for a new artistic director. We immediately put our plan into motion. We formed a search committee that has met just about every Monday since the Potes announced their retirement. I’ve been very encouraged by folks in the choral community who have said, “Be patient, it’s a long process.” When you’ve been in a position for as long as the Potes have been, it’s not easy to fill their shoes. We know the perfect person is out there—we just need to make sure that when that person presents themself, we are able to recognize them.

The Potes have been so supportive throughout the entire process. They have kept us positive about their retirement and are the first ones to say, “We know it will take someone with different talents to take this chorus into the future.” They’re the ones telling us to keep an open mind.

What has been the most rewarding thing about working with children’s music?

I have the best of both worlds here. I get to love these children and their moms and dads and participate in what they’re doing, and yet I get to step back and let the Potes do what they do so well, and concentrate on growing the business. I’ve enjoyed seeing that side of this

Allen and Susan Pote
Henriques and the Pensacola Children's Chorus are in the midst of a search to find a successor for founding artistic directors Allen and Susan Pote, who are retiring after 26 years, following the current season.

organization grow. I’m in an art form that I truly love. And the kids come in and start singing Christmas music in August—so I get to start celebrating Christmas in August! It’s a great job.

Tell us about one big success in your chorus that you’re really proud of.

We are so excited seeing these children grow as a result of their exposure to the different kinds of literature that have been presented to them. They sing with the opera, with the symphony, they do musical theater—these kids who came in just wanting to sing have developed a love of music of all kinds and deep artistic skills. There have been so many “mountaintop moments,” but it’s hard to say there’s been one big success. It’s been 26 years of that blessing. It’s been rewarding to me and the other staff members, and to the Potes in particular.

What’s the biggest challenge facing your chorus today?

Recruitment is always a challenge. The children have so many distractions and opportunities for extracurricular activities. They really have to be committed to participate in an organization like this. We get the ones that really love choral music and want to really grow.

What’s one exciting thing you have planned for the future?

We have a great concert coming up at the end of February with guest conductor Jim Papoulis. He’s going to be conducting our “One World, Many Voices” performance. We will be doing a lot of globally influenced music. We had Francisco Núñez last year and the kids loved him, and we’re really excited about Jim coming.

Why did you decide to join Chorus America?

I joined Chorus America at the urging of Allen Pote. He was the one who said I needed to see what they had to offer, and suggested I go to Conference (2014, in DC). I was blown away by the organization the group displayed and the level of speakers, including the small forums like the buttonhole conversations. It was so well laid out—I was able to take advantage of everything that was being offered. And I particularly enjoyed the segment on fundraising—I learned some things, but it also reinforced that we were on the right path. It was such a great experience, not to mention all the people I got to meet.

Can you tell us about a time where your Chorus America membership has helped you?

Recently our board used the Self-Evaluation Tool from Chorus America, just to start that conversation about what we’re doing well and what we can improve upon. Ed Stawick in the Chorus America office has been extremely helpful in pointing us to resources available to us on the website. He recommended the Navigating a Music Director Transition resource, so we have been following that template during this process as well. In fact, there are so many things that Chorus America offers that we haven’t even had a chance to get into all of them yet. It’s amazing that there are so many resources at our fingertips.

What got you hooked on choral music?

I was fortunate to be one of those people who grew up in a public school system where chorus was an elective and I had a fantastic choral teacher. That’s really where it started. I was totally dedicated to my high school chorus and that really became my life outside of high school.

When you take off your choral hat, what else is an important part of your life?

I’m always trying to learn something new. Right now I’m learning to fly. I have a goal of getting my private pilot’s license by December 2016.

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