An “All Vivaldi Holiday” will kick off the Williamsport Civic Chorus’ 80th anniversary concert season when they present the concert on Sunday, November 12 at 3 p.m. at the Trinity Episcopal Pro-Cathedral at 844 West Fourth Street. The concert will feature soloists and a small orchestra under the baton of Musical Director Michael Connor.
The Williamsport Civic Chorus, now under the leadership of Connor, is one of Williamsport’s oldest musical organizations, having been founded in 1944.
For 80 years, the talented and dedicated singers of the Williamsport Civic Chorus have gathered together for the common purpose of perpetuating the richness and diversity of choral music for the enjoyment and edification of audiences and singers alike. The singers join for many different reasons: to express themselves, to sing with friends, old and new, to improve as vocalists, and to add to the cultural vitality of the greater Williamsport area. As the legendary author Hans Christian Anderson said, “Where words fail, music speaks.”
Some history of this venerable musical organization according to its website, the history of the Williamsport Civic Chorus begins in 1933. At that time, Fred Christian was a student at Princeton Theological Seminary, and Walter McIver was a student at Westminster Choir School. The two met and became good friends.
When Dr. Christian came to Williamsport as pastor of Covenant Central Presbyterian Church, he introduced a graded choir program. There was much interest in this program among area residents. In 1940, he invited Walter McIver, then living in Harrisburg, to come and conduct a Community Summer Choir School. Mrs. Mary Landon Russell was their accompanist. The school was a great success.
The following year, McIver became the Minister of Music at this church. After four years of summer choir school, some members wanted training year-round so they could form an organization and become a part of the musical life of Williamsport.
A general invitation for members was issued to the public. Auditions were held for membership, and with 57 enthusiastic singers, their first rehearsal was held on September 10, 1944. Thus, the Williamsport Civic Choir was formed.
The Choir’s first season 1944-45 consisted of two programs: Handel’s Messiah and Brahms’ Requiem. Mary Landon Russell continued as accompanist. In 1947, the Choir began holding rehearsals at Dickinson College (now Lycoming College) where Walter McIver had been appointed Instructor of Music. For the next few years, they combined with the Lycoming College Choir for many of their concerts.
The first concert performed with an orchestra was Handel’s Messiah with the Williamsport Civic Orchestra at the Capital Theatre to a standing-room-only audience. With the exception of two years, the performance of the Messiah or portions of it was presented annually until 1970.
On August 31, 1949, the Choir participated with other musical organizations in the first Community Hymn Sing, which was held in Brandon Park. The Choir provided a musical background and carol singing for the Christmas lighting ceremony held on the Court House lawn on November 25, 1949. This was an annual concert for several years.
The first “Pops Concert” was given at Lycoming College on June 16, 1952. A Civic Choir Award was established to be presented to the outstanding member of the Lycoming College Choir. This is still given annually.
On December 22 and 23, 1953, the Civic Choir presented a very special program of Menottis’ Amahl and the Night Visitors. Mrs. McIver was cast as the mother, and the McIver’s son, Bill, portrayed Amahl, as he had done on the NBC Television production. Audiences totaled over 2,000.
In 1968, the group’s name was changed to the Williamsport Civic Chorus to reflect a modernized repertoire that included both sacred and secular music. In this same year, the Chorus was incorporated as a non-profit organization.
On a personal note, my mother was a member of the then Williamsport Civic Choir during the early 1960s. I was a small child then. The Choir was performing Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado,” and my mom had the elaborate makeup of a geisha girl on her that included her face being painted white, and this alarmed me greatly, and I became frightened, I was then six years old. My mother then reassured me there was nothing to be scared of that she was playing a role in a musical production. I guess this attests to how well-costumed and presented their productions were then and are still.
Tickets for the Williamsport Civic Chorus’ concert can be bought at the Otto Bookstore, Robert M. Sides Family Music Store Center, or at the door. General Admission is $10, and student and senior admission is $8.