Choral Arts Festival coming March 9

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 23, 2019

In March, around 265 performers will take the stage during The West Georgia Choral Arts Festival at Callaway Auditorium.

The festival is underwritten by the Choral Society of West Georgia in collaboration with the LaGrange College Music Department and will feature Christian Fellowship Baptist Church, First Baptist third grade choir, Long Cane Middle School Chorus, Harris County High School Choir, Harris County High School Women’s Ensemble, LaGrange College Chamber Choir, Point University Concert Choir and the Sons of Lafayette Male Choir. Andrew Harry will be the pianist and Jason Hernandez will be the percussionist.

“It’ll be a wide array,” Choral Society of West Georgia Director Bettie Biggs said. “We have a third-grade youth choir from First Baptist all the way up to the more mature choirs. The Sons of Lafayette are singing with us again this year, and then we have two collegiate choirs. It really spans that inter-generational group of different singers from 7 and 8-year-olds all the way up to people in their 70s and 80s that sing with the adult choirs.”

Biggs said that she was especially excited about some of the choral groups participating in the festival for the first time, including the LCMS Chorus and choral groups from Harris County.

“I’m very excited that I was finally able to secure Harris County,” Biggs said. “They have a very strong music program there. [Pope] is bringing both her women’s ensemble and mixed choir.”

The festival typically features different choral ensembles and guest clinicians each year in order to bring forward a unique sound. This year, Dr. Oliver Nathan Greene Jr. will serve as the guest clinician.

“The main thing in this particular year that is so personally important to me is Nathan Greene directing,” Biggs said. “Many years ago, when I first moved to LaGrange, I was the choir director at St. Mark’s. The organist was having a rehearsal with a young man from LaGrange High School, and he ran in my office and said, ‘You’ve got to hear this kid sing.’”

Biggs said that she was impressed by the then 16-year-old Greene’s “beautiful baritone” voice. She ended up giving the teen voice lessons.

“She was actually my first voice teacher when I was in high school, and she gave me voice lessons in exchange for singing in the choir at the Episcopal church,” Greene said. “That was the beginning of a relationship that began as teacher and student, and many years later, I was asked to sing a solo with the choral society. This will be the first opportunity that I’ve had to come back and serve as a conductor.”

Greene received a bachelor’s degree in vocal performance from the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati, where his conducting training began. He received master’s degrees in vocal performance and sacred music with an emphasis in conducting from Southern Methodist University, and he received a Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology from Florida State University. He has performed at a variety of venues, primarily on the east coast of the United States, and he has been published in journal articles, a documentary film and a book on the indigenous music and rituals of the Garifuna people of Central America. Greene has also performed with the LaGrange Symphony Orchestra as a guest vocalist.

“I feel so honored, and my entire family does, to be remembered and thought of and to be asked to be the guest clinician for this very, very important event,” Greene said. “This is really crucial, and it should continue as long as possible in the area, because it provides a form of expression that is so important for the community and the listeners at large and in the entire region.”

Biggs said that the concerts have attracted crowds in excess of 500 people in the past, and she hopes that everyone will feel welcome to attend.

“Each year has gotten an even stronger response from the community,” Biggs said. “Our mission is not just to be inclusive of the LaGrange, West Georgia area, but to include choirs [from other areas].”

Greene noted the choral festival’s potential impact on the region.

“Since I am typically not in LaGrange, I have known about the choral society, but only recently have found out about the choral festival,” Greene said. “It is an incredible event that occurs in the community for not only LaGrange, but for the entire West Georgia, East Alabama region.

“Its intention is to connect people of varying choral experiences and cultural backgrounds — from public schools or home school to community choruses to college and university choruses and church choirs. It is very unique in that sense.”

The West Georgia Choral Arts Festival is funded through the Georgia Council for the Arts, a grant from the City of LaGrange, the West Point Fund and the Choral Society of West Georgia. Additionally, LaGrange College’s music department partners on the festival, allowing use of rehearsal space and Callaway Auditorium. The concert is free and open to the public.

The West Georgia Choral Arts Festival will take place on March 9 at 4 p.m. at Callaway Auditorium.