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Civic Chorale reaches milestone note

Amanda Marsh- For the Press • Dec 3, 2013 at 5:12 PM

It’s been 40 years since the Civic Chorale sang its first note.

In between a name change and many memorable performances, the ensemble has continued to grow and expand its repertoire.

“This season itself is a season of celebration,” said Anne Reever Osborne, president of the Civic Chorale Board of Directors.

The 2013-14 chorale concert series is top-notch, as usual. The “Sounds of the Season” performance is scheduled for December, followed by “Carmina Burana by Carl Orff” in March that will also include the Symphony of the Mountains and Voices of the Mountains.

At the end of this milestone season, in May, there will be an event that many are greatly anticipating — the “40th Anniversary Season Finale.”

Bob and Jane LaPella are among those who are most excited about this special event. The couple founded the Civic Chorale in 1973, which at that time was called the Johnson City Civic Chorale.

Bob had been a faculty member at East Tennessee State University’s Department of Music for about 10 years, and Jane was, and still is, an organist at Munsey United Methodist Church when the idea first emerged.

“We just thought it would be a good thing if Johnson City had a community chorus, so I got 16 singers together,” Bob said. “It wasn’t simple, but we thought it was a good idea and we had a lot of support from our friends, and it just took off.”

Soon, those 16 singers grew to 32 performers for the first Christmas concert. Bob recruited current former students who were still living nearby.

“In the beginning, we charged ourselves a membership fee so that we would have money to buy music,” Jane said. “Then churches, Milligan College and ETSU lent it to us. And we just kept building.”

Bob recounts some memorable performances during his direction of the chorale, such as the opening of the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in Nashville and the World’s Fair in Knoxville. The LaPellas also fondly recall when the chorale combined forces with the Johnson City Community Theatre to produce Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Pirates of Penzance.”

Later, the ensemble realized that not all their friends and fellow performers lived in Johnson City as the name of the group implied. It was clear that they were a chorale that represented supreme vocal talent from the region, so they dropped Johnson City and became the Civic Chorale.

“Even from the beginning, the idea was that it would be representative of the region and I wanted it to become a lasting legacy of mine and Jane’s work with the community,” Bob said.

After 20 years, the LaPellas decided to retire from the Civic Chorale, but still continue to attend every concert.

“You miss it, but we just thought 20 years was a good round number and it was time to move on and let someone else have a stab at it,” Bob said with a laugh.

In its 40 years of existence, the Civic Chorale has had only three directors. Dr. David Hendricksen is the current conductor and was appointed in 1998. He followed the second director, Douglas Grove-DeJarnett.

Additionally, the ensemble has grown to about 65 members with about 45 participating in each concert.

Through changes in membership and leadership, the chorale continues to commission new music in a wide variety of styles and periods. Audiences at each concert may hear anything from plain songs to contemporary compositions, whatever fits the current ensemble.

“The types and sounds that we do have evolved, but it has been the same type of thing all through the years,” said Sandra Smith, an alto and 40-year member of the Civic Chorale. “It depends on the director and what sound they are going for and what they are comfortable with.”

Smith joined the ensemble after moving to Johnson City from Knoxville, where she belonged to a chorus. She read about the new Civic Chorale in the newspaper and called Bob immediately.

“Until they started talking about it last year, I didn’t know it had been 40 years,” Smith said. “I hadn’t taken the time to count it up! I never really planned it that way. It snuck up on me.”

The next Civic Chorale concert during the 40th anniversary season is scheduled for Dec. 14 at First Presbyterian Church in Johnson City. No tickets are required, but there is a suggested donation of $10 at the door.

For additional Civic Chorale concert dates and times, as well as upcoming audition dates and instructions, visit www.thecivicchorale.org or find “the Civic Chorale” on Facebook.

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