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Hendersonville Chorale

Celebrates the joy of singing with two May concerts

Published Thursday, November 16, 2006  Hendersonville Times-News

My heart will be blessed with the sound of music, and I'll sing once more."

-- Oscar Hammerstein II

Ah, music: soothing or jarring, uplifting or disappointing, its melody is a watercolor that stirs the soul. Its lyrics: impressionism that touches the heart. For those who love to play or sing, music is its own reward.

In February, 1975, the Opportunity House of Hendersonville sponsored the formation of a local "choral society" for those interested in recreational singing, music apart from the ministry of church choir participation. The Hendersonville Chorale was the result, a choral group under the direction of Raymond Reed, director of the Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra. By the end of April, a board of officers was elected, and the group was well into preparation for its first performance. Weekly practices leading to spring and fall concerts, followed by Christmas and summer breaks, would eventually shape the group's musical calendar.

First concert

The chorale's debut on June 8, 1975, was performed in the Hendersonville High School Auditorium, with 80 choral members, the director, and R. Steele Phillips as the accompanist. The original music selection included patriotic songs, spirituals, "pop/gospel/rock" tunes, folk songs, and a medley from The Sound of Music. This program established the pattern of music enjoyed today.

One charter member remains, soprano Phyllis Sheldon, who said, "I keep coming back because I like to sing. The directors are good, and Kristen Walter, our present director, is one of the very best and also the first woman to hold that position. It's an opportunity to relax, have fun, and yet learn at the same time."

Walter, director of music at Covenant Presbyterian Church, began her tenure as conductor in preparation for the fall, 2005, concert. She holds a master's in choral music education from Florida State University and has been a featured vocal soloist as well as a private and public school choir director. She replaced the also excellent Robert Hudson, who led the chorale for four years. He is currently interim director of the Hendersonville Community Band.

Chorale and band unite

Walter and Hudson will be uniting the chorale and the band for a performance at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 12, at West Henderson High School. Collaborating on several pieces, including Armed Forces Salute, the chorale has been invited as guest performer at the Community Band's annual spring concert.

At 8 p.m. Friday, May 11, the Chorale will present its traditional concert at the First Baptist Church, Hendersonville. The theme is "Spring Songs," and will include The Sound of Music medley performed in 1975. A selection from John Rutter's Requiem: The Lord is My Shepherd will be sung in memory of Joy Perry, long-time chorale librarian. Accompanying on the oboe will be guest artist, Pam Sacco.

Other guest artists will be Michael Brannon, former chorale conductor from 1996 to 2000, who will be joining the May 11 performance for a four-hand piano accompaniment to Stomp Your Foot, a "choral square dance" by Aaron Copland. Song for the Unsung Hero will be especially meaningful with a trumpet solo by guest performer, Jay Carrigan.

Music and fellowship

As wonderful as the concerts are, they are actually frosting on the rich cake of weekly fellowship and musical endeavor. Many of the 90 individuals who perform, explains Walter, have primarily come together "to do music for the sake of music."

Barbara LaBar, member of the chorale since 1994 and vice president of the organization adds, "Most importantly, anyone can join; there're no auditions." It's an opportunity to sing, for those who love music.

The rewards of membership are great, according to Joan Sutton, chorale recording secretary and also a member since 1994. "It's releasing. The music is unique, from different eras, and under the talent of the director and the skill of the accompanist, the artistry develops. It's enjoyable, socially beneficial, as well as healthy because of breath control," an aspect of singing that gives music its phrasing.

Members come from across Henderson County. They represent a variety of professions, from home-makers to teachers, retired military to retired missionaries, a ministering nun to the Pardee Hospital Chaplain, Charles Kirby, who is treasurer of the chorale, to an actress with the Hendersonville Little Theater, Rosemary O'Brien, who serves as president, and every profession in between, including a delightful high school soprano. Ages range accordingly, from the mid-teens to the 90s.

Retired reference librarian, Jerri Endres, corresponding secretary for the chorale said, "I hadn't sung in 29 years since my college days. I realized after joining the chorale how much I had missed that 'natural high' from singing!"

New members are welcome at the beginning of each concert season. Jane Steinmetz joined last August. "I love it!" she says. "I like the quality of music; it's a challenging combination. A lot is accomplished in two hours under Kristen's direction."

The chorale is currently meeting at Covenant Presbyterian Church from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. on Monday nights.

The accompanists

The chorale's success could never have achieved its height without the great talent and musical sensitivity of its accompanists. Joanne Claire Wilkerson, daughter of Phillips, the first to hold this position, succeeded him as accompanist in1976 when he accepted the conductor's role upon Reed's retirement. She retired in 1999.

The current accompanist, Shannon Stewart Hall from Newton accepted this position and performed her first concert in May, 1999. Enjoying her ninth spring season, Hall has received many accolades through the years for her exceptional musical gifts. She holds a graduate degree in church music from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and is currently the minister of music at West Hendersonville Baptist.

When the Hendersonville Chorale was organized, one of its objectives was to "contribute to the cultural education of the people in this area." It has been accomplishing this goal for 32 years through its music. Another way the chorale has contributed to the community is by awarding two scholarships each spring to local high school seniors recommended for their vocal talent. With the death over a year ago of a faithful and beloved member, Boyd Sutton, the scholarships are now named in his honor: The Boyd Sutton Memorial Hendersonville Chorale Scholarship.

With the start of the 2005 fall season, new director Kristen Walter sent a welcoming letter to friends and members of the chorale. She referenced one of the songs by Lowry that would be sung in the November concert, How Can I Keep From Singing? She acknowledged within herself and other members the truth of this song's lyrics:

"My life flows on in endless song, above earth's lamentation Thru' all the tumult and the strife, I hear the music ringing! It sounds and echoes in my soul, how can I keep from singing?"

It's the Hendersonville Chorale for those who can't.

Ann Greenleaf Wirtz is a member of the Hendersonville Chorale.


Weathering awkward situation rewarding

Published Sunday, April 22, 2007

Becoming the youngest member of the Hendersonville Chorale has truly been an incredible experience.

When I started my senior year at Heritage Hall International, I was extremely excited. The school itself does not have a choir class but my school principal, Mrs. Jones, said she would give me a credit if I joined a nearby choir and showed up regularly.

So that's when the search for a choir began. My dad came across an article in the Times-News about the Hendersonville Chorale and its wonderful director Kristen Walter and told me about it right away. I suddenly realized Mrs. Walter had taught me at Apple Valley Middle School for their after-school choir program from first through fifth grades and I had absolutely loved it.

As soon as I walked into the first rehearsal with my dad, I wanted to walk right back out. I looked around the room at all the members and not one of them was even close to my age. I naturally thought this chorus wouldn't be for me, since I was only 17 and did not have as much experience as the men and women in the Chorale - they were all so much older than I.

However, when we met with Kristen Walter (who actually remembered me) she welcomed me enthusiastically and said I could sit through the first rehearsal to see if I would be interested in joining them. Even though I was extremely nervous, it only took the first rehearsal to get me hooked.

After just a few months, I have really gotten to know some of the members of the Chorale and no matter their age, I have liked every one of them. One of the best parts about being in this chorus is that the older atmosphere requires less discipline than a regular high school choir, because everyone in the group is there voluntarily. Also, the music pieces are more challenging than anything I had been used to in the past, which is improving my vocal skills as a first soprano singer.

Some of the wide varieties of songs we sing include White Christmas, an Irving Berlin medley, a beautiful Latin piece called Cantate Domino, and two acappela pieces from Johann Sebastian Bach. My favorite is the upbeat gospel piece, Rockin' Jerusalem by Andre J. Thomas.

Rehearsals last two hours every Monday night, but the majority of my practice is done at home. Having about 18 songs to learn, as well as some to memorize, definitely takes a lot of dedication and hard work.

From this experience I have learned to be more open-minded about new situations and that no matter what age you are, you can always share something in common that unblocks the age barrier between people. Lastly, I have learned that a challenge will improve you in the long run. I am looking forward to performing for the first time with the Hendersonville Chorale this year and hope to see you there.


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