The Southern Crescent Chorale Has Commitment to Excellence
In less than a decade, the Southern Crescent Chorale (SCC) has built a reputation as one of the premiere arts organizations on Atlanta’s southside. A 75-voice, auditioned community chorus, the group is noted both for the quality of its performances and the breadth of its repertoire. The SCC is equally at home with major choral works, opera, pop, show tunes, or spirituals.
Janice Folsom is Artistic Director and Conductor of the group, as well as its founder. A longtime choral director at Fayette County High School and an alumna of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus under Robert Shaw, she felt the southside needed an adult community chorus. She spent a number of years carefully researching how to develop a solid foundation for such a group. The founding board spent another seven-plus months of regular meetings laying groundwork.
The Chorale began in the fall of 2002 with about 60 singers. (A third of those charter members are still with the group.) The SCC’s guiding principles: to give talented singers the opportunity to perform a variety of challenging choral literature to high performance standards, and to offer affordable, convenient concerts in the local community.
“I had no idea who would turn up,” recalls Folsom. “But the first group was excellent, and we attracted folks from all over the Atlanta area. They were excited to do major works with like-minded people. We’ve insisted on excellence from the beginning.”
A typical SCC season opens with a concert/gala dinner dance and fundraiser, usually at the Wyndham Peachtree Conference Center in Peachtree City. The concert includes a sampling of highlights from upcoming programs.
The major concert is typically held in Spivey Hall, nationally acclaimed for its acoustics. Among these programs have been Faure’s “Requiem,” Schubert’s “Mass in G,” and a selection of famous oratorios and opera choruses. This season, the Chorale will perform Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms.”
By contrast, spring performances at The Villages Amphitheater in Fayetteville strike a lighter note. Themes have focused on composers Gershwin, Berlin, and Porter; the Fifties and Sixties; and favorites of the Big Band era. “It’s always lots of fun for both the Chorale and the audience,” Folsom says. “We include costuming, dancing, and other things that we don’t normally do at our concerts. We have a live band and guest soloists.” This year’s program, “Beach Party,” will feature Beach Boys hits, Carolina beach music, and other beach-related songs, along with a Shag dance contest.
Rounding out each season are a benefit performance, this year for The Children’s Village at Christian City, and in December a holiday concert and a singalong performance of Handel’s “Messiah.”
The Chorale toured Italy in June of 2007, performing in cities including Milan, Florence, and Rome. “It was a thrilling experience for us all,” Folsom recalls. Some of their performances received standing ovations. An especially memorable appearance was at Rome’s Basilica Di S. Eustachio. “We had a standing-room-only crowd,” she says. “It was a moving concert. Several of the members had tears rolling down their cheeks as we sang beautiful music in such a wonderful place with such an appreciative audience.”
Vittoria Assettati, of the Associazione Amici della Musica Sacra in Rome, noted, “The Southern Crescent Chorale performed a very beautiful concert. They gave people some unique emotion they will keep with them for years. This choir is one of the best I heard in years. The audience was very enthusiastic about the concert and people did not leave the church until the last note.”
The Chorale will return to Europe this summer for a tour of Vienna, Prague, and Berlin.
Singing in the SCC
Chorale members must be over the age of 18. (Singers this season range from 23 to 83.) While the Chorale was obviously founded to serve the south metro area, Folsom notes that “We’re happy to have folks come from as far as they are willing to drive.” Currently the membership has residents of six counties.
Singers must audition, usually at the end of the season in early June. Hopefuls perform “My Country Tis of Thee” and scales, and must demonstrate proficiency in tonal memory and sight reading. “We welcome all different voice parts to audition, and then I select singers based on how the group balances out,” Folsom explains.
Membership in the SCC requires a major commitment. Regular rehearsals each Monday evening last two and a half hours, and there is generally at least one extra rehearsal during concert weeks. Regular attendance for rehearsals and performances is expected, except in case of illness or emergency. Dues are $50 a year and members buy their own performance attire: long black dresses for the women and tuxedoes for the men.
For members, there’s no doubt that it’s worth the time, effort, and expense. For Shirley Poole, “Singing in the SCC is life-enriching. I’m thankful for the opportunity.” Ellen Williamson calls it “spiritually uplifting and rewarding. We’re encouraged to excel musically to be an inspiration to our audiences.”
For Cherry Hutcheson in 2006, a year of “several deep losses with ensuing grief,” the Chorale opened “a window of joyous musical experiences“ and brought “refreshing relationships with new friends, and wider opportunities to once again use my musical gifts. Singing with others who are committed to making glorious music under Janice’s outstanding leadership is the highlight of my week.”
It’s a diverse group, but a love of choral music creates a strong bond. Conrad Michels, the youngest member and a former student of Folsom’s, says, “I love rehearsals because it’s a choir where everyone does something other than music for forty hours a week, but we all understand the importance of music in life. It’s always refreshing.”
Several couples are SCC members, including Angel and Ana Guardiola (whose son was a student of Folsom’s) and Jeff and Alicia Stark. He was a student of Folsom’s who met his wife when both were singing in the chorus at the Georgia Governor’s Honors Program for high schoolers.
Charter member James Richardson observes, “My wife and I have been a part of the Chorale for close to seven years. To have the opportunity to sing with such a talented group of singers has been a joy for us. Under the direction of Ms. Folsom, and with the support of so many of the leaders of the tri-county area, the SCC has flourished and been a true blessing to the community.”
Other Ways to Get Involved
Its singers are not the only volunteers in the Chorale. Those with other talents play crucial roles. “We were lucky to have Leanne Farrington agree to be our Executive Director in the beginning, and she’s continued in that volunteer capacity to this day,” notes Folsom. “We were also lucky to have such an outstanding charter board of directors, and subsequent boards have continued to provide solid financial leadership.”
“This season we’re delighted that the Metro Fayette Kiwanis Club is partnering with us to provide volunteers,” she continues. “However, we’re always looking for help in a variety of areas. Besides the obvious ushering, we need folks to do concert set-up, move instruments and equipment, host and serve at events, sell concert tickets, and cultivate donors. And we would love to have some volunteers with experience in grant writing.”
Financial assistance is also important, not only for typical operating expenses but to keep ticket prices affordable for the community and to ensure the services of a paid accompanist. “I insisted on that in the original planning, because we wanted to have top-notch talent. And we’ve been blessed to have had outstanding accompanists from the start. Steve Shivers, serving now, is a graduate of Peabody Conservatory and has taught piano at Clayton State University for over 20 years. He’s a spectacular accompanist.”
“Doug Walker has been a faithful donor since our inception, and Dave Lee on our Board of Advisors has made a tremendous difference with his financial support,” continues Folsom. “But donations at any level are very welcome. Corporate support plays an important role too. For example, the Fayette newspaper The Citizen has been the sponsor of our spring pops concert for a number of years.”
Folsom retired from teaching in 2006 after 34 years, 29 of them at Fayette County High School. So how is her work with the Chorale different from working with student classes and choirs? “Well, I love making music, so in that way, it’s a continuation. And choral music brings people together regardless of age.”
“I loved working with students and helping to mold their lives, but I’ve also found much satisfaction in working with the adults in the Chorale. They’re very quick studies, so rehearsals are much more productive and fast-paced. The SCC members are also more focused than teenagers tend to be.”
“But the most notable thing about the Chorale members is that they’re all simply wonderful people.”
Like Folsom, member Glenna Ross has been with the SCC since the beginning. “I enjoy the music and fellowship, and also enjoy being able to give back to Fayette County at the same time. I’m thankful for the Chorale, and I believe the county is thankful to have us.”
For More Information
A brochure, including the season schedule, is available upon request. Note that the website includes audio clips (see under “About Us”).
SOUNDS OF SHARING
The SCC has collaborated with a variety of other organizations through the years, such as performing joint concerts with Tara Winds and the Southern Crescent Symphony Orchestra. A number of area churches have provided rehearsal and/or performance opportunities for the Chorale.
Since 2004, the SCC has made benefit performances an important part of its programming. “We select organizations in our community or the Atlanta area which help children,” Folsom explains. While these concerts are presented to the public free of charge, donations are welcomed. “We’re pleased to have raised more than $15,000 so far.” The benefit concerts have also provided the chance to perform with many other groups.
The first benefit concert was called “Atlanta Cares.” The Chorale partnered with the Ebenezer Baptist Church Choir, the Fayette County High School (FCHS) Select Chorus, and the Woodward Academy Festival Singers at the historic church to aid the Atlanta Boys and Girls Club. The following season, the SCC joined the FCHS Select Chorus and the Fayette Youth Chorale at Hapeville First Baptist Church to raise funds for the Georgia Baptist Children’s Home.
In 2007, a concert for Southwest Christian Care’s Hope House Respite Center was held at Southwest Christian Church. Participating with the SCC were Masterworks Chorale and the Newnan and Union Grove High School Choirs. The next year, the Joseph Sams School was the recipient of funds from a concert at Peachtree City’s First United Methodist Church, with the choirs from Starr’s Mill and McIntosh High Schools joining in.
Last season, a benefit for Fayette Youth Protection Homes was held at Harp’s Crossing Baptist Church in Fayetteville. The Chorale performed with the Gwinnett Choral Guild, the Georgia Young Men’s Ensemble, and the FCHS Chorus. This year’s benefit concert will be performed at Southwest Christian Church in East Point and will aid The Children’s Village at Christian City.