For a vocal chorus that sings classical music, Seraphic Fire has a name that is downright heavy metal. The group's conductor and founder, Patrick Quigley, tells us that was intentional. "Growing up, I was a part of choruses and noticed they were always named after the city they were based in or the composer. Nobody goes to see the New York Basketball Team; they go to see the New York Knicks, so I wanted to give our chorus an actual name."
After uniting a coalition of South Florida teachers, music professionals, and University of Miami vocal students in 2002, Quigley — like Radiohead or Death Cab for Cutie before him — found a name in the lyrics of a song. "William Billings, the first American-born composer, wrote a piece called 'Invocation,'" he says. "In the first line is, 'Majestic God our muse inspire/And fill us with seraphic fire.'"
Armed with a memorable handle, Quigley moved forward establishing Seraphic Fire as the top vocal ensemble south of Washington, D.C., but soon began losing members to graduations and job offers in other cities. Quigley scrambled to come up with a solution to his dwindling ranks.
"We came up with a unique business model that maybe 20 other choruses around the country began to follow," he explains. "When members move outside Miami, we fly them in for a week of concentrated rehearsals and performances. When regular members can't make it for a week, we fly in someone else. This allows our members to have solo careers and allows a city like Miami that might not be able to support this many singers to have an all-star professional vocal ensemble."
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And though Quigley is now among the members living outside the Sunshine State (he has relocated to Washington, D.C.), it hasn't stopped Seraphic Fire from continuing to perform more than 40 shows a year in South Florida. Among the group's upcoming performances are renditions of Johannes Brahms' “German Requiem” on April 8 at Fort Lauderdale's All Saints Episcopal Church, April 9 at Miami Shores Presbyterian Church, and April 10 at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center. Quigley describes Seraphic Fire's rendition as "broad, aching musical lines with two amazing soloists. This is what we were nominated for a Grammy for in 2012. Brahms composed it at a piano. This is a very intimate version. When you hear the opening notes, it becomes a very spiritual, family affair."
The following week, on April 16, Seraphic Fire will play Steve Reich's The Desert Music at the New World Symphony. "Steve Reich is one of the fathers of minimalism," Quigley explains. "This is a 45-minute piece that shows where techno came from. It is electronica from before you could loop things."
Quigley says both programs are proof that Seraphic Fire achieved what he set out to do more than a decade ago. "This is pretty special. It's the best set of voices to do this in the country. Our goal from the beginning was when you listen to us, you hear the composer. Our sound is different for every composer we perform."
Seraphic Fire. 8 p.m. Saturday, April 9, at the Miami Shores Presbyterian Church, 602 NE 96th St., Miami Shores. Tickets cost $55 plus fees via eventbrite.com.
Seraphic Fire. 4 p.m. Sunday, April 10, at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, 10950 SW 211th St., Miami. Tickets cost $20 to $55 via smdcac.org.
Seraphic Fire. 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 16, at the New World Symphony, 500 17th St., Miami Beach. Tickets cost $65 to $80 via nws.edu.