The Six Degree Singers
Conductor Rachel Carlson has created a chorus for the next generation.
Six years ago, Rachel Carlson returned to Montgomery County with a master’s degree in choral conducting from the University of Wisconsin, but no choir to direct. So the Silver Spring resident got some friends together to sing in her basement. They invited a few more, and the group grew by word of mouth. They named themselves the Six Degree Singers because almost everyone in the group knew each other through mutual friends. Today, there are more than 35 members.
With Carlson, 31, as artistic director, the group has performed at the Kennedy Center and the University of Maryland, and at retirement communities, farmers markets and schools. Last December they caroled at a White House holiday party. Carlson, who grew up in Kemp Mill and graduated from Montgomery Blair High School, finds time to lead the group while also studying for her doctorate in choral conducting at the University of Maryland and working with four other choirs as a singer, conductor or both.
Through its annual Young Composers Competition and other special projects, the choir has also commissioned and performed more than 12 original pieces, broadening the scope of choral music and giving exposure to emerging songwriters. As the group prepares for a string of holiday parties, festivals and a winter concert series, we chatted with Carlson about choral music for and by the millennial generation.
Who’s in the group?
All of our members are in their 20s and 30s, so we’re younger than a lot of other groups. A large reason why a lot of people join my choir is the social aspect. We really have a robust social life outside of just singing together. We have dinners together, we go out after rehearsals. There are a ton of choral groups in this area, but I think we found our niche.
Have any members dated?
We had a proposal in a performance once. We have two meteorologists. They were dating. They met each other in school. So in the middle of the concert he surprised her with a duet and then proposed. The whole rest of the choir was crying behind them. We did one more song after that, and then we had to end it, because how do you top that?
We have some choir couples. We always go out to Quarry House after rehearsals—we have a bass singer who married a waitress at Quarry House.
What makes Six Degree Singers different from other choral groups in the area?
The type of music we perform is primarily secular music. I program thematically. The theme of our January concert series is love songs and waltzes. So it’s Brahms’ Liebeslieder Waltzes and love songs from across the ages: some jazz, some Renaissance, some world, some folk, some contemporary. My main goal has always been to make our performances accessible to our audience and to get people exposed to new music.
What would you like to see the group doing in the future?
We really care about getting into the community and sharing our music with people who might not necessarily be into classical music. It’s about connecting, but it’s about education, too. We’re exceeding the bounds of what people think choral groups do.
I’d like to do a flash mob somewhere like downtown Silver Spring, where you wouldn’t expect to hear choral music, but you’d be happy that it was there.
The Six Degree Singers perform at 7 and 8:30 p.m., Dec. 9, at the Festival of Lights at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ visitors center in Kensington; 7:30 p.m., Jan. 23, at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Silver Spring; and 4:30 p.m., Jan. 24, at Hughes United Methodist Church in Wheaton. For more information, visit www.singsix.com.