The Columbia Choral Society was born in a spirit of service to the community. Organized as the Shandon Choral Society to compete in a 1930 Community Chest Drive contest, the group came to represent the entire city, and changed its name to reflect this. Working to stimulate and broaden interest in good music and to perform the world's great choral works, the group quickly grew from about 40 to more than 100 voices. The Choral Society sponsored and performed at an annual spring music festival in the city, which featured touring professional orchestras and soloists. Headliners in 1938 were the National Symphony Orchestra and the Philadelphia Symphony, as well as Nelson Eddy, the "idol of America."
The Choral Society has been blessed with strong directors of long tenure. First was Leonard C. Molz, who directed when founder Mrs. James Y. Perry was president. In 1949, Guthrie Darr arrived from California, where he was a member of the Robert Shaw Chorale, to join the music faculty of Columbia College, and became director of the Columbia Choral Society. During Dr. Darr's 40 years as director, the chorus became a full-season organization within the Columbia Music Festival Association, presenting three or more concerts per year. The annual production of Handel's Messiah became a Columbia tradition.
From 1990 to 2000, Dr. Larry D. Wyatt, Director of Choral Studies at the University of South Carolina, served as Music Director. In 1993, the Choral Society was selected to be the chorus of the South Carolina Philharmonic, while continuing to produce biennial independent concerts. The group also performed numerous times at Charleston's Piccolo Spoleto during this time period, gaining critical acclaim for its 1995 a cappella performance of Rachmaninoff's All-Night Vigil. During Wyatt's tenure, the Choral Society also performed Bernstein's Chichester Psalms, Durufle's Requiem, Randall Thompson's Peaceable Kingdom, among many others.
Dr. Tim Koch accepted the position of Music Director in 2000. He holds degrees from Illinois Wesleyan University and the University of Illinois, and the Doctor of Musical Arts from the Eastman School of Music. During his tenure, the Chorale gave acclaimed performances of many masterworks, including Handel's Messiah, Mozart's Requiem, Beethoven's Mass in C and Ninth Symphony, and Ernest Bloch's Sacred Service. Koch and the Chorale also ventured into the contemporary repertory, including performances of music by Samuel Adler, Kirke Mechem, Petr Eben and Meira Warshauer. It was also during Dr. Koch's term as Music Director that the chorus was renamed as the South Carolina Symphonic Chorale. In the fall of 2005, however, the chorus reverted to its former name, the Columbia Choral Society.
Dr. William D. Carswell was selected as Music Director in 2005 and led the chorus during its 75th year, culminating in a magnificent 75th Anniversary Concert held at St. Peter's Catholic Church followed by a reception at the Museum of Art. At the time, Dr. Carswell was Assistant Professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities at Coker College in Hartsville. He holds degrees from Appalachian State University, Florida State University and the University of South Carolina. His infectious enthusiasm for choral music and for volunteer choruses ensured that every concert was a celebration of that enthusiasm. Dr. Carswell's promotion to Associate Professor of Music at Coker College and the additional responsibilities that were entailed resulted in his resignation as Music Director of the Columbia Choral Society in 2010.
Christopher Jacobson took up the baton of the society in the fall of 2011 and held this position until June of 2013. Mr. Jacobson holds the Master of Music degree in Organ Performance and the Sacred Music Diploma from the Eastman School of Music as well as the Associate diploma from the American Guild of Organists. He received his Bachelor of Music degree with distinction in Organ Performance from St. Olaf College. He is also a graduate of the American Boy Choir School where he was a treble chorister. During Mr. Jacobson's first season, the Columbia Choral Society implemented a new young artist scholarship program. The CCS Guthrie Darr Young Artist Scholarship exists to encourage and assist young artists in the study of voice through private voice lessons.
The Columbia Choral Society was most fortunate to have Dr. David Lowry accept the position of Interim Music Director for the 2013-14 season. He is Professor Emeritus of Music at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, SC, and was the Founder of the York County Choral Society, serving as its Artistic Director from 1980 to 2011. Dr. Lowry holds academic degrees from Baldwin-Wallace University, Union Theological Seminary, and the University of North Texas. As a concert organist, he has played nearly 200 recitals in the United States, England, Austria and Switzerland. He is past president of the Association of Anglican Musicians, and has served on the board of the Royal School of Church Music in America for more than 20 years. Dr. Lowry is Parish Musician at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Columbia, and is a frequent contributor to The Free Times as a reviewer of classical music concerts in Columbia.
In August 2014, Dr. Matthew Caine became the society's new Music Director. He brings a wealth of talent, education, public relations experience, and choral conducting expertise to this position. Under Dr. Caine's direction, the Columbia Choral Society continues its long tradition as a dedicated volunteer professional chorus of auditioned singers.
Through its history, the Columbia Choral Society has performed with a long list of accomplished organizations, including the South Carolina Philharmonic Orchestra, the Charleston, Long Bay, and University of South Carolina Symphony Orchestras, the Carolina Master Chorale, the Charleston Symphony Chorus, the Bulgarian National Chorus, the West Yorkshire (England) Chorus, the Sandlapper Singers, the Palmetto Mastersingers, the University of South Carolina Concert Choir and University Chorus, and the Benedict Concert Choir. The Choral Society's most recent appearances with the South Carolina Philharmonic included performances of Haydn's Te Deum for the Empress Maria Therese (2009), Poulenc's Gloria (2011), Beethoven's Ninth Symphony (2012) and Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky Cantata (2014).