By Mary Hutcherson, Charter member since 1971
In the winter of 1971 five people dreamed of a community chorus open to all singers without audition for the purpose of learning and performing major choral works. Jewell and Robert John, Arlene and Al Ligotti, and Daniel Politoske arranged rehearsal space at Oglethorpe Elementary School, hung posters, and hoped to attract thirty or forty singers. On May 18, 1971, the fledgling Choral Society, some 75 voices, gave its first concert – Brahms’ New Liebeslieder Waltzes and portions of Handel’s Messiah, in the old Mell Auditorium.
Over the decades, the Choral Society has remained true to the ideals of its founders. The group has amassed a repertory of 180 or more works, and has presented two to three free performances per year plus a summer fund-raiser. Concerts have included the giants of choral literature, such as Mendelssohn’s Elijah, Haydn’s Creation, Dvorak’s Stabat Mater, and Rutter’s Mass of the Children as well as works by relatively obscure composers such as Baldassare Galuppi and Amy Beach. Some of the more unusual concerts include one devoted to the music of women composers, an all-American program for the 1976 Bicentennial, and an international concert with pieces in seven languages. The chorus has premiered several short pieces by local composers, and in 1996, it commissioned a major work, The Mystic Trumpeter, by John Corina. The first annual summer fund-raiser was instituted at Seney-Stovall Chapel in 1998, and past fundraisers have included The Mikado, Pirates of Penzance, and HMS Pinafore. Recent summer shows have been light-hearted musical revues with songs from the 40s, 50s, and 60s.
The longevity of the Athens Choral Society has been due to a series of dedicated directors, a core of singers who return season after season and who recruit new members for each term, and a large body of friends and patrons in the Athens and UGA community. Former directors include Daniel Politoske, Ann Jones, Tom Weaver, David Johnson, Tom Granum, Scott McCoy, James Baldwin, Marlene Ledet, John Corina, Ken Powers, and Dell Hitchcock. Stephen Mitchell has been director since 2005. Former accompanists include Clara Johnson, Joe Causey, Sue Baughman, and Emma Pettyjohn, and Miriam Edwards. Sara Lorusso is now accompanist and assistant director. Scores of instrumentalists and soloists have also performed with the chorus.
Concerts have been presented at Hodgson Hall, First Baptist Church, Milledge Avenue Baptist Church, First Presbyterian Church, St. Phillip’s Cathedral in Atlanta, Beechwood Baptist Church, First United Methodist Church, UGA’s Fine Arts Auditorium, the Morton Theater, the Oconee Civic Center, and numerous out-of-town sites.
The Society is supported by a small dues for each term and donations by patrons and sponsors. Singers also purchase their own scores. ACS has enabled singers to grow in their vocal ability, to broaden their musical horizons, to perform choral masterworks, and to have fun in rehearsal as well as performance.