Yesterday the Greenville Chorale celebrated the conclusion of its 60th concert season and its director, Dr. Bing Vick celebrated 40 years as conductor of the group. It was a stirring concert at First Baptist in Greenville with a varied repertoire played to a capacity crowd. It was also bittersweet for me. This was my last concert with the group, ending my 25+ years with the Chorale and the Herring Chamber Ensemble.
This concert was supposed to take place last year, but the entire season got postponed due to COVID. We started rehearsals at Furman wearing masks, which I found to be a challenge. For some of our group, the requirements for masks and vaccines were too much of a burden and they decided not to participate. So be it. The rest of us were happy to be back.
For our fall concert we did the Brahms Requiem at the Peace Center. I found the concert itself to be emotionally challenging. The phrase from the Requiem, “For all flesh is as the grass…” hit a little too close to home given the deaths of friends and family due to the pandemic. It was just a bit too soon.
We did Handel’s Messiah for our Christmas concert, masked, as well. I’ve done both the Requiem and Messiah so many times that I could do large portions from memory. Of course, with the Requiem I wanted to sing it in German rather than English. That might have helped mitigate the morbid feelings it invoked.
The Herring Chamber Ensemble did the monumental Bach B Minor Mass for our February concert. The music was difficult, but since it was Bach it was somewhat predictable. For the first time we were able to give a concert without masks, as these were not required at Westminster Presbyterian.
That brings us to this most recent concert. The repertoire was mostly music about music. We did some of the favorites from years past, such as Randall Thompson’s “Ye Shall Have a Song” and “Sing Me to Heaven” by Dan Gawthrop. The Chorale had also commissioned a piece from Mark Kilstofte entitled “Everyone’s Voice.”
The concert also featured the Herring Chamber Ensemble on two pieces and the Rushingbrook Children’s Choir in a set of pieces. It was a stirring concert and well-received. It being my last concert, I held it together until the end when I shook Bing’s hand one last time. Both of us broke down and lost it.
I first met Bing back in high school in the 1970s. He was one of the judges when I auditioned for All-State Honors that year. Later, at Furman he was my faculty advisor and choral conducting professor. We studied the Brahms Requiem and Handel’s Messiah in depth, which lead to my being able to sing these from memory some 42 years later. I sang with the Furman Singers under Bing’s direction for all of my four years at Furman.
After Furman I opted for other ensembles rather than the Chorale. I preferred smaller groups, so I sang with the Quodlibet Singers, Greenville Savoyards, the ill-fated Greenville Symphony Chorus, and the Heritage Chamber Singers. Even so, I still joined the Chorale for a few concerts, including Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and a trip to the Spoleto Festival in Charleston to sing Prokofiev’s “Alexander Nevsky.”
My brother Stephen had just joined the Chorale and encouraged me to join so that we could sing together. I did so in 1997 and was also invited to join the Herring Chamber Ensemble. From that point I continued with both ensembles, the only interruptions coming from COVID and the one year Laura and I went to Washington State. Over those years I’ve had the privilege of singing many major choral works with symphony, as well as new pieces by Kilstofte and Dan Forrest. I have always appreciated Bing’s attention to detail and the way that he is able to extract precision from such a large ensemble.
I’ve also made many friends in the Chorale. Some are close friends that I’ll continue to see outside of the group, but some I only encountered within that context. I will miss seeing these folks on a regular basis. I will miss working on marvelous music regularly. I’ll even miss Bing’s weekly diatribes when things don’t go right (Bingatribes?).
But, it’s time to move on. With Laura retiring from Furman we want to have more time for travel. I hate to confess it, but my voice isn’t what it used to be. I don’t have the breath support I once had and I hear more and more vibrato creeping in. It’s time to let some younger folks step into my place, while I turn my attention to other less-formal music outlets such as my banjo and old-time gigs.
My congratulations to the Chorale on its 60th season, to Bing on his 40 years as its conductor, my appreciation to Judy Vick for serving as hostess and putting up with us, and my appreciation to Laura for letting me continue with Chorale for as long as I have. It has been an honor. As we used to close our Herring Ensemble concerts…
I have had pleasure enough. I have had singing.