After creating the Rogue Valley Chorale and seeing it through its first four decades, artistic director Lynn Sjolund has decided to hang up his baton at the end of the coming season.

After creating the Rogue Valley Chorale and seeing it through its first four decades, artistic director Lynn Sjolund has decided to hang up his baton at the end of the coming season.

Hailed as genial, fun and the consummate professional, the 83-year-old Sjolund says the chorale's performances of Bach's long and complex Mass in B Minor were his highest achievements, along with Bach's St. Matthew Passion and Mendelssohn's "Elijah."

"They took a lot of rehearshing and expansion of our thinking — and we had to pay orchestral musicians to come in and perform special roles," said Sjolund, in an interview in his Medford home.

A native of Olympia, Wash., he holds bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Oregon. Sjolund started his career in 1956 at Medford High School, where he was the school's conductor and taught chorale music, music theory and music appreciation.

Sjolund was hired before an interview, based on his reptutation, and he remembers "it was love at first sight" when he finally got to the Rogue Valley.

He wanted to start a dozen-member madrigal group, but so many people wanted to sing chorale music that he bowed to their wishes and in 1973 formed the Rogue Valley Chorale, says Mary Kay Harmon, one of the group's "founding mothers."

"The women wanted a choir not connected with church," said Sjolund. It began with 47 members and has swelled at times to more than 100 singers.

"I can hardly put into words what he's done for us," says Harmon. "We wouldn't have had the opportunity to sing this caliber work without him. He's a wonderful conductor, fun to be with and challenging in a diverse range of music."

The independent, nonprofit chorale has tackled a range of "serious" or classical works — about three-fourths of its output — with the rest being "popular" works, he said.

"It's been a tremendous amount of satisfaction. People have gotten such joy from participating and from listening," he says. "You get every emotion from laughter to weeping, but every moment has that essential amount of truth, and it sticks with you."

The versatile Rogue Valley Chorale has become known for its performances of Broadway greats such as Gershwin, Porter, Kern and Rogers. It celebrated its 20th anniversary in 1993 with performances in Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic. It toured Scandinavia in 1995, Italy in 1998 and performed in Carnegie Hall in 2000. It marked its 30th anniversary in 2003 with a concert tour of Western Europe — and with the publication of a cookbook, "Sing For Your Supper," containing recipes of dishes the group brought to their many potlucks.

"The chorale and the Southern Oregon Repertory Singers are two groups," he says, "that people look to for excellence all the time."

Sjolund taught music at Loyola University, Lewis and Clark College, University of Oregon and Southern Oregon University. He was artistic director and conductor for Rogue Opera and Rogue Opera Programs for Youth.

He and his wife, Doris, married in 1971. She has been a member of the chorale since its beginning and is founder/director emerita of the Rogue Valley Children's Chorus.

"Retirement will be a major change for him and for the chorale," she said.

Sjolund will lead the chorale in its 40th season. It features a Christmas presentation, including a double chorus by Heinrich Schutz, a Magnificat, an Ave Verum, several shorter pieces and carols sung with the audience. The Rogue Valley Brass Ensemble will join them.

The February concert will feature sacred music drawn from past performances here and on tour. In April, the chorale will perform lighter fare, including show tunes and spirituals.

The chorale's board has begun the search for a new conductor, who is expected to be on hand for its 40th anniverary on Nov. 15 next year.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.