It was Dec. 15, 1974. The 114 singers and 49 musicians of the Berkeley Community Chorus & Orchestra were performing Handel’s Messiah under the direction of Eugene Jones, in what was to become an annual holiday event in the city. As audience members poured into the Berkeley Community Theatre for the 4 p.m. performance, they each received a mimeographed program, featuring on the cover the outline of a white dove, set within a striped heart on a black circle.
That was the birth of a graphic design that would serve as the symbol of the organization to the present day. Created by Sarah Yost, the graphic would be modified over the years for numerous BCCO programs and flyers, but the basic elements of the dove and heart motif remained to become the most recognizable image of the BCCO.
In a poster announcing the 1977 performance of The Messiah, a red heart in the center was added to the white dove set amidst a black background. A string of notes pierce through the white heart on a black dove in a 1983 program, and for a benefit performance for the victims of the 1985 Mexico City earthquake, one of the dove’s wings held the announcement of this charitable outreach.
For the 1992 World Premiere of Julian White’s Five Parables for Chorus and Orchestra, Mary Gizdich designed a program featuring two white doves, each with the black heart in its center.
The following year, her program design included the BCCO heart and dove on a banner hanging from a trumpet announcing the Stravinsky, Vivaldi and Beethoven program. And in 2011, a
tiny dove appeared on the cover of the May concert program for Brahms Requiem.
The dove expanded to other items. In 1984, BCCO members who travelled to England for the organization’s first international tour proudly wore what are believed to be the first T-shirts with the silk-screened dove logo. They performed a medley of American music at venues in London, the Cotswolds and in the chapel at Oxford. Even the choral director of The Cheltenham Choral Society, which hosted BCCO at Highnam Court, happily donned a BCCO T-shirt during a rehearsal.
Since then, T-shirts, sweatshirts, bags and mugs carry the logo and it remains at the top of each week’s edition of “Chorus Notes.” As the chorus prepared for its June 2015 performances of Verdi’s Requiem, bass Jerry Freiwirth arrived at the special bass sectional wearing a T-shirt with the time-honored logo. The tradition continues. It links today’s singers and orchestra members with the hundreds of others who have been part of BCCO over the past five decades.