History and Mission

A Short History of the Artistic Leadership of the Houston Masterworks Chorus
Performing Great Choral Music for a Great Community

When Cherrie and Ara Carapetyan renewed their wedding vows in 1985, Cherrie asked Ara what his most cherished wish was.

He said,

To create an oratorio society in Houston.

And she said,

Let's do it!

Dr. Ara Carapetyan was the distinguished Director of Music Ministries at Houston’s First Presbyterian Church, and Cherrie was a management consultant providing development and training opportunities to non-profit boards and staff. The Houston Symphony was one of her clients. Together they applied for a non-profit charter, put a board of directors together, and proceeded to plan concerts, audition singers, and raise funds to found, sustain, and grow “The Houston Oratorio Society.” The chorus sang Johannes Brahms’ Ein Deutches Requiem in the Wortham Center’s opening celebration in 1987.


Ara programmed masterworks of the choral repertoire and experimental works of contemporary composers. The chorus, having changed its name to Houston Masterworks Chorus, enjoyed a large audience of committed music lovers. After several years at the helm and much soul searching, he and Cherrie agreed that it was time to take the organization to the next musical level.

In 1994, Bob Brewer was hired as the most qualified maestro. Robert Brewer, a consummate musician, organist and choir director at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, brought musical discipline and artistic vision, and excited a new generation of singers and audiences. After several years under his direction, Bob decided to step down. The Board of Directors spent a year considering three qualified applicants for the position of conductor. Each was assigned a concert with preparatory rehearsals.

The Chorus had major input in the selection process and in 2000, Dr. Craig Hella Johnson was named Artistic Director/Conductor. Craig was Director of Choral Activities at The University of Texas, Austin, and traveled weekly to Houston to provide an exhilarating, magical experience at rehearsals. The board was excited with his forward-thinking plans and set about raising funds to support his vision. The audience grew, the budget grew, and the musical standard surpassed expectations. HMC participated in the Victoria Bach Festival expanding its outreach and broadening its horizons. After four years with HMC, Craig decided to follow a different music career path, founding the now famous Grammy Award winning Conspirare, in Austin, precipitating another Director search.

In 2005 a willing and immensely talented replacement, Dr. Alan Hightower, was selected. Alan was Director of Choral Activities at Sam Houston State University and Music Director of Houston’s First Baptist Church and Tallowood Baptist Church. He successfully led HMC for four seasons and then he accepted the position as Director of Choral Activities at Luther College in Iowa.


Once again the HMC Board of Directors performed a Director search. Paula Blackmon very capably served as Interim Director during the search for a new Artistic Director and Conductor, which resulted in the discovery of one of Houston’s treasures.

In 2011, Tom Jaber agreed to take the baton. For the past 29 years, he has been Professor of Music at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music. He also served for 25 years at Chaplewood United Methodist Church.


2016 began Tom’s sixth year as Artistic and Music Director, and he helped to usher in HMC’s 30th Anniversary Season by taking the chorus on a tour of Italy, singing in Pisa, Sorrento, and in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Tom programmed an exciting lineup of concerts including a 9/11 performance of Faure’s Requiem, forming alliances with the Texas Youth Symphony to perform Beethoven’s  Symphony No. 9,  and singing with the Texas All State Choir auditionees. HMC concluded its 2016-2017 Concert Season in May with a resounding performance of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, and a highly acclaimed guest appearance with the Festival Orchestra in Round Top, Texas, singing Verdi’s Requiem.

With strong leadership, a clear vision and strategy for the future, the Houston Masterworks Chorus promises exciting and musically rewarding experiences for our singers and our audience.


Houston Masterworks Chorus believes music has the power to change the lives of those who sing and of those who listen.