​The Sewanee Chorale Tradition Continues

by Kevin Cummings, Messenger Staff Writer
The Sewanee Chorale’s Christmas present to the community will be unwrapped a little early this year — more of a Thanksgiving gift.
Due to a busy Sewanee schedule, director Ruth Cobb said the chorale will offer a free performance at All Saints’ Chapel on Friday, Nov. 3, at 7:30 p.m., in lieu of a December show.
“It has been a fun and challenging program to learn and I think the entire community will find ‘Music of Joy and Thanksgiving’ an uplifting and entertaining presentation,” Cobb said. “Personally, I hope we find a way to sing a program in December next year. There’s so much music that can only be sung at Christmas!”
Phoebe Bates and Karen Keele founded the Sewanee Chorale in 1967.
“Up until that time, there was no singing group in Sewanee with female members except for the Sewanee Woman’s Club, which put on a Christmas program each year,” Bates said. “Karen and I had sung in groups before coming to Sewanee and wondered if it were possible to find a place for a mixed choir and a director of such a choir.”
Joe Running, University of the South organist and choirmaster, said his wife, Judy, might be interested in directing, Bates recalled. Judy Running led the chorale until she was killed in the mid-1970s. Bates said she was driving on the highway when a truck threw a tire and it hit her.
“It was a terrible tragedy,” Bates said. “She was en route to Nashville to get more music for a spring program, and we were to sing Brahm’s “Requiem” at the spring concert with the University Choir. Instead, Joe directed the combined choirs. Needless to say, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.”
Keele said initially the chorale was formed to just gather people who enjoyed good music.
“At first, we had no intention of  performing; it was only for our personal enjoyment,” she said. “But newer comers wanted a goal for their practices, and the performance idea just took over.”
Today the chorale continues a long tradition of drawing a variety of community members together in song.
Jack Furman, 81, a retired urologist who sings bass, first joined the chorale in 2002.
“I was a horn player and I got too old to play the horn, so I wanted something else to do in music,” he said. “I think it’s a challenge. You’ve got to have some challenges when you’re not working all the time anymore.”
Claudia Porter, an alto, sang in the chorale for two years in the early 1980s and her most recent run is eight years. A retired bookkeeper, she said the friendships are her favorite part of the group.
Soprano Lisa Perry, who works in the University’s Office of Residential Life, is in her first chorale season. She said she was looking for both a creative and social outlet.
“I appreciate the generous sense of humor throughout the chorale members and in our director, Ruth Cobb,” she said. “We do a lot of really good work in a very short time on Monday evenings, and the morale of the group keeps things lively and entertaining.”
Cobb, at the helm since January 2016 after director Gary Sturgis stepped down, said the group is made up of dedicated people.
“The chorale was founded to give the community, staff and faculty a place to sing: where neighbors and colleagues who are dedicated to superior musicianship work together and present a wide range of choral repertoire,” Cobb said. “The chorale is the only choral organization in Sewanee for those who are not students.”
Soprano Dorothy Gates, the University’s faculty technology coordinator, has been in the group for five years this time around, but sang for three years in the 1970s. Gates said she enjoys the “interaction of people from so many different walks of life” and the diversity of the music.
The Nov. 3 show will be diverse, featuring numbers from Broadway musicals like “Oliver,” “Godspell,” and “Beauty and the Beast,” and the works of English composers Adrian Batten, William Boyce and Benjamin Britten.
Cobb noted that a piece by John Rutter, called “Banquet Fugue,” should be especially fun.
“If I tell you that the first line of text is ‘Guzzle, guzzle, munch, munch, gobble, gobble,’ I think you’ll get the idea,” she said.
She added that there are a few familiar pieces that will allow the audience to sing along.
Several guest musicians will join the chorale, including Joseph Causby, director of music and organist of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in San Antonio. Cobb said community members Barbara Carden and Alyssa Sumpter will provide accompaniment and Sewanee students Will Burton-Edwards and Anna Burkin will sing solos.
Sewanee seminarian Caroline Carson, who is also the chorale’s assistant director, will also direct a small ensemble of chorale members, Cobb added.
The Sewanee Community Chest provides financial support for the group, in addition to voluntary member contributions. Donations will be accepted at the concert with a portion going to the Community Chest, Cobb said.
A reception will follow, where audience members can meet the performers and find out more about the Sewanee Chorale.