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Synchronizing Voices and Systems

Mark Nelson maintains tradition as director of the IBM Mid-Hudson Valley Club Chorus.

Mark Nelson works with IBM Mid-Hudson Valley Club Chorus at their rehearsal space in Poughkeepsie, New York.

Image by Jennifer May

The year is 1982. It’s one of Mark Nelson’s first days at IBM and he sees an announcement for the IBM Mid-Hudson Valley Club Chorus. He attended a practice one night and has been singing with the crew ever since. The senior software engineer in z/OS* Security Server (RACF*) Design and Development, who now serves as the chorus’ director, claims he's always had an affection for music and the Hudson Valley. 

“Well, first, it’s the people more than anything else, and then the music,” Nelson says about staying with the group for 37 years. 

Instilling Tradition

Nelson says it’s an honor to be a part of IBM’s great musical tradition. The IBM Mid-Hudson Valley Club Chorus was founded in 1946 at the personal request of IBM’s former president, Thomas J. Watson Sr., himself. There is even a corporate songbook

Today, the group performs at company events, churches, senior residences and, once, a local baseball game. Nelson still remembers directing his first show for an IBM holiday party when the previous director fell sick and asked Nelson to take his place last minute. He recalls feeling nervous until a soprano in the group handed him a fake red nose to put on as they began singing “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” 

“And when you get to the chorus and everybody is invited to sing, I turn around. I have the red nose on, and the kids go wild. We had a great concert. We had a lot of fun and we did three more songs and life was good.”

Puzzles of Life

Nelson grew up surrounded by technology. He and his brother, a radio operator, would spend time with their grandfather creating science projects. Nelson ultimately chose to study computer science at the Polytechnic Institute of New York (now a part of New York University).

“You know that feeling of being able to work on one of the great puzzles of life, which is writing a program, getting it to work? It was a great feeling.”

Nelson says the club chorus is similar to his job in that he has to do a bit of shepherding. “We all know what we want to do,” he says. “Sometimes that actual execution of it needs a little bit of a gentle guidance.” He compares helping members’ voices harmonize to helping his security team work with other departments.

“The end goal is to come out with a singularity of vision, a singularity of execution so that you don’t hear 25 individual voices. You don’t see 25 different products. You hear one voice. You see one OS.
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