Top
A Wichita Tradition: Handel's Messiah

Come celebrate a Wichita tradition of 72 years!

Nov. 26, 2017, at 2:00pm, at City Life Church(formerly First Baptist), located at 216 E. 2nd, Wichita KS 67212.  Admission is $10 at the door.  Tickets can be purchased in advance from a Wichita Choral Society member.  For information, please call Carol Parsons at 316-258-2518.  

DIRECTOR:

Shawn Chastain  

SOLOISTS:

Soprano-Carter Tholl

Alto-Kiara Colon

Tenor-Brian Stranghoner

Bass-Phillip Lopez

 

Visit our Facebook Page

History of the Wichita Choral Society

The first work performed by the WCS was Brahms’s “Requiem”. The society shared that historic program with the year-old Wichita Symphony Orchestra. In its first four years, the society presented works as diverse as Harris “Folk Song Symphony” and Bach’s “Passion According to Saint Matthew”. Winter 1945 saw the first “Messiah” performance, starting a tradition broken only twice in 61 years.

The Wichita Choral Society has enjoyed the leadership of 12 directors, each bringing a unique vision of the relationship between the society and the community. Dr. Harold Decker carried the society forward until he resigned in 1957. During his tenure, programming consisted primarily of works drawn from baroque, classical, and romantic oratorio literature.

The closing years of the 1950s saw two rapid changes in conductors. Arthur Westbrook held the post as an interim conductor. His sole spring concert featured Haydn’s “Creation” and excerpts from the opera "Carmen”. In 1959, David Foltz took over the reins and brought with him fresh visions for the choral society. In his first spring concert he chose to do “King David” by Arthur Honegger, achieving the required 600 voices by combining the Wichita University choirs with the choral society. He was also able to obtain the services of Basil Rathbone as narrator. In fall 1959, Dr. Foltz presented an abbreviated “Messiah” and combined it with a performance of “Amahl and the Night Visitors”. Even more ambitious was the spring 1960 presentation of Edward Elgar’s “Dream of Gerontius”.

Cecil Riney left an indelible stamp upon the organization for much of the 1960s. Dr. Riney pulled back from the adventuresome programming of Dr. Foltz, returning to popular selections such as “The Creation” and “Elijah”. Upon Dr. Riney’s retirement from the WCS in 1966, John Sample assumed the leadership. Under his directorship, the society, along with the Wichita Symphony and other area choruses, celebrated the opening of Century II with a performance of Beethoven’s “Ninth Symphony”.

The first new conductor of the 1970s was Tom Miller, whose major accomplishment was the founding of the Chorale, a selected group of singers responsible for outreach and fund raising. In 1975, Dorothy Crum made her first appearance with the society as a soprano soloist. Under Jim Jones, the society participated in another cooperative effort with the Wichita Symphony Orchestra, presenting the 1975 “Messiah” as part of the symphony season. In 1978, the Wichita Symphony decided to go it alone with its own “Messiah” and the choral society program departed from tradition with the presentation of “A Ceremony of Lessons and Carols,” including selected choruses from “Messiah” and works by other composers, interspersed with scripture readings. Starting in 1978, the spring concerts took on a different flavor with a format change from the presentation of a single large work accompanied by full orchestra to several shorter works accompanied by chamber orchestra or solo instrument.

In 1980, Steve Hodge took over musical leadership, continuing established formats for the two years that he held the post. In 1982, Steve Peter, who had been assistant conductor, took over the reins. He too stayed with the proven methods.

The WCS celebrated its 40th anniversary with the appointment of Dr. Dorothy Crum as musical director and conductor. For the next 11 years, the chorus experienced one of its most rewarding periods of growth as she continued previous traditions while branching out in new directions. During her tenure, the chorus was held to the highest standards, both in musicianship and repertoire, and greatly benefited from Dr. Crum’s ability to make each rehearsal seem to be a private voice lesson, even as she crafted and blended the group’s choral dynamics. Highlights included two European tours. She first took 32 members to France and Wichita’s sister city, Orleans, where the group’s concerts were well received. The second tour visited Scotland and England, presenting five concerts in four cities over nine days. The touring members made many new friends on these tours and appreciated the opportunity to visit other countries.

Messiah presentations took off in some new directions with two sing-along Messiah events. Wichita, however, did not respond to this concept, and after two tries, the society returned to the traditional soloist/chorus format. Dr. Crum also varied the orchestration. In 1991 and 1992, she programmed W. A. Mozart’s orchestration of Messiah, the rich sonorities and heightened drama adding invigorating dimension to the work. In 1988 the Chorale was renamed the Allegro Singers in an effort to give them a separate identity. They continued community outreach and fund raising, performing for public events and private parties. The WCS also instituted an annual scholarship presented to graduating high school seniors planning to major in music. Dr. Crum consistently sought to provide the best possible choral experience available for non-auditioned singers. She worked diligently at improving the vocal quality of the group.

In 1994, the WCS reopened the earlier cooperative efforts with the Wichita State University choirs and orchestra with a combined presentation of the Berlioz “Requiem”, under the baton of Dr. Robert Glasmann. Though this work was the most challenging that many of the singers had attempted, most agreed that the final result was well worth the blood, sweat, and tears.

In 1996, David Sharlow began his tenure as conductor/artistic director of the society. For two seasons, he led the society in the annual fall classic presentation of Handel’s “Messiah”. The next year was a busy year. It began with the spring performance of John Rutter’s Requiem. The Allegro Singers presented special programs at Cathedral of the Plains and the Air Force Academy. David and 25 members of the society traveled to New York City and, along with several other groups, gave a splendid performance at Carnegie Hall over the Thanksgiving holiday. John Rutter directed his own composition, “Magnificat”, and all touring members were thankful for this opportunity.

In 1998, Chip Handrich began his tenure as conductor/director of the society. He led the society for one performance of Handel’s “Messiah” and the Allegro Singers brought Christmas carols to Cowtown and several women’s groups. The spring performance was a spirited rendition of John Rutter’s “Gloria”. His term was short-lived, as he announced in the spring that he had accepted a position as a minister of music at an Illinois church. Billie Fredholm took the helm in 1998. She taught vocal music at Jardine Middle school and was the choir director at Dellrose United Methodist Church and the chorus greatly benefited from her enthusiasm and ability to draw the best efforts from the chorus during each rehearsal as well on the day of the performance.

In 2001, Shawn Chastain, the present director, inherited the baton!  Under Shawn’s direction and influence, the chorus has seen an increase in size of both the chorus and the enthusiastic audiences.