This year we celebate 20 years of choral singing by this group that was first called the Chapin Community Chorus and came to be the Dutch Fork Choral Society, recognizing that our singers and musicians come from and serve a wider community of music lovers.
We want to recognize the Founding Members and anyone who ever sang with the Dutch Fork Choral Society who are with us tonight.
In late winter of 2001, Mary K Elsasser and I were returning from a week of singing on St. Simons Island with a Road Scholar choral program and wishing that we had such a group locally so that those glorious hours of singing a wide range of music with a diverse group of people could be more than a once-a-year experience.
You might say we wished on the right star, but it felt more like an answered prayer to me, when arriving home in Chapin we learned that Mt. Horeb Lutheran Church had a new music minister, Gerald Tidwell, whose dream was to extend choral singing to the wider community. With the help and support of church choir members like Jim Lindler, those seeds had been planted and rehearsals were beginning that culminated in our first performance during the Chapin Labor Day celebration in 2001!
In the now 20+ years since, we have grown and blossomed with inspired leadership of directors drawn from seasoned and beloved school and church choir directors, like Marjorie Turner, Suzanne Ringer, and Nancy Gibbons, and from fresh faces and colleagues from the USC School of Music--a wonderful community support--like Kirstina Rasmussen Collins, Lawrence Abernathy, Matthew Caine, and Will Carswell, who have gone on to stellar careers in other places.
Some we came to know first, like our own fearless leader Sarah High, as “guest performers” from local school choruses as we lived out our mission of developing and advancing the art of choral singing for future generations by providing a place to sing that spans a whole lifetime and a wide range of musical genres. (Remember the Cosmic Possums? Or our square dancers? Or our being strolling carolers for the Chapin Christmas season opening?)
Our directors helped us find extraordinary accompanists, like Amos Goldie, Frances Webb, William Douglas, and our own Bradley Fuller, who play so beautifully that sometimes I listen breathlessly and forget to sing!
Our directors and accompanists enhanced and grew our ability to tackle and learn challenging music from the classics like Bach and Handel (Who can forget count-singing The Messiah to get those intricate rhythms exactly right?) through school chorus favorites like Set Me as a Seal, How Can I Keep from Singing, beloved spirituals bursting with the energy of Moses Hogan and the poems of Robert Frost set to music in Frostiana… and on to contemporary composers like Eric Whitacre and his Seal Lullaby.
Our winter and spring concerts and our coffee and dessert fundraisers (where we heard our own members perform solo and welcomed the Chapin Chirpers and once the Columbia Opera Company for a Gilbert and Sullivan performance!) have become part of the fabric of the community with faithful audiences like the one here tonight. You have encouraged us and supported us, and we longed to be back with you as we longed to sing together again through the hiatus necessitated by the pandemic. We were so grateful to begin rehearsals again this year! Wearing masks to protect ourselves and others who may be even more vulnerable seemed a small price to pay to return to the joy of choral singing.
Eric Whitacre describes that joy this way: He says when he sat in his first choral group rehearsal, opened his score, watched the director raise his baton, 120 people breathed at the same time, and the Kyrie from Mozart’s Requiem burst forth all around him, his world went from black and white to technicolor! We know that visceral feeling when we sing, and we hope you feel it as you listen. Studies have shown that the heartbeats of people who sing together synchronize over time! What an image and experience of community at a time when we need it so much to counter the divisiveness of this day and age! Whitacre says in choral singing we learn compassion, empathy, discipline, language, history, focus—all essential for all the other parts of our lives. He calls choral singing the “core of who we are and who we mean to be.”
And so, we are so happy to be back together and with you! These words I copied from an Order of Worship at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London still ring in my heart: “In choral Evensong words and music come together, each enriching the other, in order that our senses and our intellects, our hearts and our minds, may help us draw closer to God who is above all, and through all, and in all. ‘Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.’” (Luke 24:29)
And so is my time! Thank you!