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 Vespers. The Choral Society has also performed Randall Thompson’s Peaceable Kingdom and Bernstein’s Chicester Psalms, works by Vierne, Britten and Perry, and in 1998, the Durufle Requiem. Other concerts have been in cities throughout the state and region, including Sumter, Hartsville, and Charlotte. The Choral Society performed as guest artist with the Charleston Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, and at Hilton Head’s 1997 Feste Italiano “Night at the Opera.”
Dr. Tim Koch accepted the position of Music Director and Conductor 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 have also ventured into the contemporary repertory in performances of music by Samuel Adler, Kirke Mechem, Petr Eben, Meira Warshauer, among others. It was also during Dr. Koch’s term as Music Director that the chorus was renamed as the South Carolina Symphonic Chorale. The chorus reverted to its original name in the fall of 2005, and is again known as the Columbia Choral Society.
Dr. William D. Carswell was selected as the 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 lovely reception at the Museum of Art. Dr. Carswell is Assistant Professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities at Coker College in Hartsville, SC. In addition to directing the Coker Singers and the Coker Chamber Singers, he teaches conducting, voice and courses in music education. 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 assures that every concert is a celebration of that enthusiasm. Dr. Carswell’s promotion to Associate Professor of Music at Coker College and the additional responsibilities that entailed resulted in his resignation as Music Director of the Columbia Choral Society in 2010. The chorus will miss him but wishes him much success.
To allow adequate time for the selection of a new Music Director, the Board invited local Music Directors to direct the three concerts of the 2010-2011 concert season. We are grateful to Dr. Lillian Quackenbush, Dr. Walter Cuttino and Dr. David Lowery for their enthusiasm, guidance and preparation for the concerts during this turnover season. It provided time for a nationwide search for the new Director, and the Board was pleased to announce the selection of Christopher Jacobson as the new Music Director, Columbia Choral Society.
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 University of South Carolina Concert Choir and University Chorus, and the Benedict Concert Choir. The 2011-2012 concert season will continue celebrating the richness of magnificent choral works in collaborations with other choral groups and the South Carolina Philharmonic.