Welcome to the Holidays
Area Choral Groups Sing In the Season with Early December Concerts
By Ryan Jones
Hearty food, sparkling lights and chilly weather are all welcome signs of the holidays to come, but one seasonal staple tops them all. Sacred or secular, holiday music holds a near-universal link to the memories, emotions, and traditions we honor and celebrate year after year. Local concerts slated for early December highlight the unique way that music ignites the spirit of the season and encourages camaraderie, community and connection.
Drawing on decades of solid leadership and vision, the Lexington Choral Society has been working since early September to perfect a variety of classic carols, religious favorites, and international surprises for its 44th annual Welcome to December! concert. As always, the concert is free, open to the public, and will take place on December 5 at First Baptist Church on West Third Avenue in Lexington.
“Historically, this concert has been called Welcome to December! because our goal is to get everyone in the Christmas spirit. The music the audience will hear will help them get in the right frame of mind, but also will maybe get them to think about Christmas in a different way,” says Phil Rector, who directs the Lexington Choral Society with his wife, Melonie, as assistant director. “People are experiencing this holiday around the world in different ways and some of the music we sing hopefully will shed a little bit of light on how other people express themselves during the Christmas season.”
With a background as a church musician, Rector assumed his post as director of the Lexington Choral Society following the 2007 retirement of its co-founder, Dr. Jo Ann Poston. He now balances his time between directing the choir and working as an environmental protection specialist with Stericycle.
“It gives me a musical outlet,” says Rector, who worked previously as the minister of music for First Baptist Church. He enjoys giving the 40-plus members of the Lexington Choral Society the opportunity to experiment with challenging and nontraditional pieces from around the world.
“We always are trying to stretch not just our boundaries musically, but also to challenge everybody so that we’re continuing to grow in our musical technique,” he says, citing his personal favorite piece from the Welcome to December! program. “There’s a Brazilian piece that is new and has been a little bit of a challenge to pull off. It’s interesting rhythmically and tonally. It’s not as straightforward as the other music we do.”
Since joining the Lexington Choral Society 10 years ago, Trudy Frank says she can’t think of a single piece she’s worked on that she wasn’t “totally in love with. He (Rector) just finds top notch music.”
Frank, former president and now vice president of the group, moved to Lexington from Florida with her husband in 2005. Both are originally from New York.
“The first thing I did when I moved here was look up the Lexington Choral Society. Music has always been a part of my life,” she says, remembering her time with the Palm Beach, Florida chapter of Sweet Adelines International, a female a cappella barbershop harmony chorus. “Coming to this little town I never expected the quality and beauty of the music we perform.”
A nonprofit organization, the Lexington Choral Society is funded by local donors and businesses, as well as by Arts United for Davidson County with support from the North Carolina Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. It was founded as a women’s ensemble in 1972 and was joined by a brother ensemble 12 years later.
Over the years the group has performed at various events in New York, Myrtle Beach, Charleston and High Point. Today, the focus is on two annual concerts – the Welcome to December! concert and the Spring Sing, typically scheduled in May. Both concerts are consistently well-attended, drawing crowds into the hundreds.
Despite its professional attitude and high-quality performances, membership in the Lexington Choral Society isn’t limited to or even marketed to professional musicians.
“There are no auditions. You become a member once you hear about us,” laughs Frank. “The unifying element is everyone’s love for music. It keeps us busy doing the thing that we love so much. I don’t think there’s one person in the group who doesn’t give 100 percent. The unity of the whole group is just a beautiful thing.”
“We’ve got dentists, financial planners, at least four music teachers, an accountant and quite a few church musicians,” says Rector. “I think it’s important to touch on the broad range of people that participate in this group because I think it says a lot about the influence of music. For people from all these different backgrounds to come together and make music together, I think it’s really neat.”
The members of the Lexington Choral Society are also diverse in terms of age, with the youngest members in their mid-teens and the oldest in their 80s. Rector says this can be both rewarding and challenging.
“Probably the biggest challenge is communicating in general. Humor and things you do at a rehearsal with one group of people may not go over well with another group. It’s about trying to find a way to communicate with everyone in a way that they are motivated to sing and rehearse,” he says. “Musically we’re all on different levels, but we all tackle that part together and help each other along.”
For Melonie Rector, participating in the Lexington Choral Society as both assistant director and vocalist allows her to take a step back and experience the joy of just singing. As the choral director for Lexington Senior High School, “I’m always in charge,” she says. “That’s what I do all week and so I enjoy just being another singer with the Choral Society.”
Rector’s students will be performing their holiday concert alongside the Lexington Middle School chorus on December 10 at 7:30 p.m. in the Lexington Senior High auditorium. “We’ll do some traditional carols and some new things. We’re planning an African piece and a contemporary Latin piece; also some jazzy versions of traditional stuff,” she says.
A smaller ensemble from the high school will also perform several times throughout the month of December at area events. “We’ll perform at an open house at the Bob Timberlake Gallery and at Childress Vineyards. We’ll also sing for the Rotary Club,” says Rector. “The students who will be traveling to perform are our top group. They audition for it and have to be pretty proficient and advanced in their skills.”
Yet another opportunity to usher in the holiday season is the longstanding Community Christmas Candlelight Service scheduled this year for December 6 at First Methodist Church on Main Street in Lexington. For more than 85 years, the Lexington Music Club organized the service, which brings together over 50 members of various Lexington-area churches to perform traditional pieces as one large community choir.
John Hinson, director of music for Tyro United Methodist Church and lecturer in voice at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has been directing the group for the last four years. He is confident that this year’s performance will provide a little something for everyone. “Anyone who comes will go home happy and filled with the Christmas spirit,” says Hinson.
The Community Christmas Candlelight Service is free to attend, but guests are encouraged to participate in a canned food drive. A special offering will also take place with all funds collected being donated to community organizations.
“It’s something to give back to the community,” Hinson says. “The whole idea is that it’s a production by the community, for the community. It’s just something a lot of people enjoy coming to. It’s a longstanding tradition.”