To stimulate and broaden community engagement in music through the performance of classical choral music.
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. Over the years the Choral Society has been directed by Dr. Timothy Koch, Dr. William Carswell, Christopher Jacobson, and Dr. Mathew Caine. Guest directors include Dr. David Lowry and Dr. Lillian Quackenbush.
In 2016, Dr. Elizabeth M. Mears became the Artistic Director of the CCS. Dr. Mears received her Bachelor of Music Education from Furman University. She also holds a Master of Music Education and a Doctorate of Musical Arts in Choral Conducting from the University of South Carolina. Dr. Mears has worked with choirs of all ages, performing in festivals at the state, national and international levels. Currently, she is the Choral Director at Richland Northeast High School, where she is an instructor for the Palmetto Center for the Arts Magnet Program. Dr. Mears is also the Director of Music at Forest Lake Presbyterian Church. A Columbia native, Dr. Mears has participated in many aspects of the musical life of the city. She has been a voice teacher, an adjudicator, and a clinician. She has sung with Colla Voce, and has been a singer and soloist for Sandlapper Singers, and well as the Columbia Choral Society.
Throughout 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 Symphony, the 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, Piccolo Spoleto in Charleston, and the Benedict Concert Choir. The Choral Society frequently makes guest appearances with the South Carolina Philharmonic singing such choral works as Haydn’s Te Deum for the Empress Maria Therese (2009), Poulenc’s Gloria (2011), Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (2012 and 2015), Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky Cantata (2013), Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy (2016) and Brahm’s Schicksalslied (2016).
The Choral Society has also made many guest appearances at community events, including singing at the SC State Fair and Soda City, singing the National Anthem at Columbia Fireflies games, and caroling at Historic Columbia’s holiday tours.
Today the Columbia Choral Society continues its long tradition as a dedicated volunteer professional chorus of auditioned singers. It is a member organization of the Cultural Council of Richland and Lexington Counties and Chorus America. This organization is funded in part by the South Carolina Arts Commission, which receives support from the National Endowment for the Arts.