HISTORY OF THE COMMUNITY CHORUS
By Fran Cornwell Greene
assisted by Sarah Campbell and Judy Hancock
The Community Chorus was organized in the fall of 1961 to present a more challenging Christmas program for the choirs at the First Baptist and First Methodist Churches of Elkin. Fran Cornwell was director and Natalie Williams was the organist at First Baptist. Nellie Ruth Irwin was organist-director at First Methodist. The Christmas portion of "The Messiah" by Handel was chosen as the music for the combined choirs. Many rehearsals were held and Fran Cornwell directed the six choruses that were sung. Nellie Ruth Irwin worked with five soloists and Natalie Williams was the organist. There were sixty-nine chorus members and the program was given on December 17 at the First Baptist Church. It was received with great enthusiasm by both chorus members and the community.
In 1962 an invitation was issued to all those in the community who were willing to come to the rehearsals. One new chorus from "The Messiah" was added to the program with the same directors and organist. The number of singers increased to seventy-nine. Enthusiasm was very high. A committee was formed to make plans for the chorus to continue, since Fran Cornwell was resigning her position at First Baptist Church to be married.
In 1963 the program was given on a Sunday afternoon in the new Dixon Auditorium with Nellie Ruth Irwin directing. This was a large chorus and a most, successful concert.
In 1964, Fran Greene again directed the enthusiastic chorus, but the congregation was much smaller.
The year 1965 was a disaster. The day was cold and rainy, the congregation was small, the offering was smaller and the expenses for renting an organ and printing the programs left us in the red. The committee decided to move back to the churches, alternating between the Baptist and Methodist Churches, and to give more variety to the program by adding Christmas anthems along with some parts from "The Messiah."
In 1966 the program was given at First Baptist on a Sunday evening, with fifty-three singers and thirteen churches represented. A group of patrons provided the money to get us out of debt.( Fran Greene and Nellie Ruth Irwin led the Chorus in five Christmas Anthems. Lee and Patti Webb, Minister of Music and Organist at First Baptist, led "The Messiah" portion of the program.
In 1967 instead of using anthems, we worked on a harp and chorus work, "Ceremony of I Carols," by Benjamin Britten along with a group of choruses from "The Messiah." Pat Pence a harpist from Winston Salem, played with us. Due to illness, she was unable to practice with us until the day of the performance which caused great uneasiness. This was perhaps the most unfulfilled year for the chorus. This was the first year a musician outside our community had been used. Honorariums were given for the first time.
In 1968 Patti and Lee Webb directed the program at the Baptist Church. The chorus was made up of forty-five singers, the smallest group we had ever had.
In 1969, we used Christmas Carols instead of anthems in the program with Natalie Williams playing violin descants.
In 1970, our program became three parts; anthems, carols, and selections from "The Messiah" and has continued this way by vote of the chorus.
We have been fortunate to have organists and directors from both the Baptist and Methodist Churches to work with the Community Chorus. Organists and/or Ministers of Music from First United Methodist Church: Emaline Cockerham, organist, 1963; Lucy Eaton, Minister of Music, organist in 1972 & 1983; Janet Graham, Minister of Music, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1979; Kent Giffin, Minister of Music, 1981, 1986, 1987; Amy Vernam (Johnson), Minister of Music, organist 1989, 1990. Organists and/or Ministers of Music from First Baptist Church: Kay Wiggs, Minister of Music, helped with directing and accompanying 1970, 1971, 1972; Joe Dell Rust, Minister of Music, directed 1981; Nancy Heaton, organist, 1984, 1988. Natalie Williams has supported the Chorus with organ and violin accompaniments for twenty-five years since the first program in 1961.
The music library has been increased each year by buying some new anthems. The chorus bought some copies of "The Messiah" and music folders. All the music is stored at First Baptist in a special Community Chorus Closet. Any church may borrow music from the Community Chorus by contacting the Minister of Music at First Baptist Church.
The size of the Chorus has grown from forty-five in 1968 to an average of one hundred in the 1990's. The number of churches represented has grown from twelve to an average of thirty in the 1990's. In 1993, at First United Methodist Church, the decision was made to do two programs, afternoon and evening, because the attendance was exceeding the seating capacity of the churches. The support of the community has been demonstrated by a comfortably filled house at each program.
Choir robes of the same color were used until 1997, when the decision was made that the chorus members would wear choir robes from their church. This added much enthusiasm for the chorus as well as variety and beauty.
The 1973 -74 committees met several times to revise the simple unwritten By Laws of the Community Chorus. Those were adopted by the 1974 Chorus and have been revised as needed through the years.
From 1966 until 1977 committee members monitored the budget with financial responsibility, purchasing limited new music, running off programs on the copy machines at the churches and offering low honorariums. The budget was dependent on the Concert offering. By 1977, music prices increased, honorariums were raised, but funding remained the same. We "passed the hat" asking the chorus members to contribute $:50 each. Local community merchants supported concert efforts through donations. In 1978 the Community Chorus applied to the Foothills Arts Council for financial support and was granted $200.00. From 1979 to 1997 the Foothills Arts Council helped with funding from sources granted through the North Carolina Grassroots Arts Program. This grant program required the Community Chorus to be involved in an application process in competition for monies with other local organizations. In 1981 the Community Chorus became an Associate Member of the Foothills Arts Council who generously supported and enlarged donations each year as the increased growth of the program produced greater expenses. During these years funding from Foothills Arts Council varied from $500 to $1,800. The Concert offerings were from $300 to $500 each year and this figure was doubled when two concerts were begun in 1993. Of course, expenses also increased!
In 1997-1998 the Board of Directors of the Foothills Arts Council met with the Community Chorus Committee to discuss finding a fiscal path beneficial to both groups. Both organizations approved a resolution that the Foothills Arts Council would provide an annual allocation of funds supplemented by the traditional concert offering. The President of the Community Chorus is now a voting board member of the Foothills Arts Council and is no longer required to apply through the Grassroots Program. These changes were necessary since our budget has continued to grow and reached $3,600 in 1998.
In 1980, our twentieth year, we performed our most difficult program of music. Seventy seven enthusiastic singers gave an outstanding program. Recognition was given to fourteen people who had sung in the first program and the twentieth program, and to five people who had sung in each of the twenty concerts.
A Community Handbell Chorus made up of thirty-four bell ringers accompanied the Chorus on three anthems in 1982. This was the largest group to ever participate in any concert. There were ninety-one singers, thirty-four bell ringers, and twenty-five churches represented. In 1988 thirty-three bell ringers played with the chorus on anthems and hymns. In 1997 twelve bell ringers from the chorus accompanied several numbers. Handbells played WESTMINSTER CHIMES to open and close the programs.
In 1982, at the suggestion of the Arts Council School-Community Committee, a group of chorus members gave a thirty minute concert at the three Elkin Schools and C B Eller in Wilkes County. The Schools provided the bus transportation. About forty chorus members had a wonderful time and our music was well received. This was a delightful experience for chorus members who could take a half day to "tour." This was discontinued in 1986.
A short cantata, "The Prince of Peace is Come", by Gregor, was sung in 1983 and greatly enjoyed by the chorus.
For our twenty-fifth concert, we changed our tradition and met again at First Baptist Church as we did the first year using the same director and organist.
This concert was a special service honoring six people who had participated in all twenty-five concerts. They were Caroline and Van Dillon, Kitty Brendle, Phyllis Qualheim, Ruth Waring, and Fran Greene. The chorus sang a short work entitled "The Little Newborn Jesus Child" by Buxtehude as well as anthems and selections from "The Messiah." The Elkin Big Band, directed by Larry Irwin, played a thirty minute Prelude of Christmas Carols adding greatly to the evening of music. They have continued to play each year.
A string quartet from Greensboro was employed to accompany our all "Messiah" concert in 1986. Four local soloists were also featured. In contrast, the 1987 program included only ONE selection from "The Messiah", THE HALLELUJAH CHORUS. The rest ofthe concert was made up of carols and anthems. In 1990 a string quartet from North Carolina School of the Arts accompanied the selections from "The Messiah", and several other pieces. In 1963 a saxophone quartet was used to accompany some pieces; as was a woodwind quartet in 1976, and a brass quartet 1981 and 1991. In 1996, an orchestra (including a string quartet, brass, wind, and percussion) was used to accompany Many Moods of Christmas, an arrangement of carols. Gena Poovey, Surry Community College Visiting Artist, was our feature soloist in 1991. Amy Johnson and David McCollum shared in the directing of the chorus and Amy Tayloe shared in the organ accompaniment. The next year the program was divided between three directors; Fran Greene, Gena Poovey, and David McCollum with Amy Johnson as organist. David McCollum and Fran Greene have shared the directing responsibilities since 1993. Amy Johnson and Amy Tayloe have shared the organ responsibilities since 1984.
Covers for our program bulletin have often been designed by artists from the community. In the last few years, the cover for the bulletin has been chosen from designs submitted by members of the chorus. We look forward to continuing our concerts as long as there are enthusiastic singers and audiences.