The Tallahassee Civic Chorale celebrates 20 years of music

Celebrating 20 years of music and friendship

In 1986, Robin Collins was majoring in music at Florida State University when she noticed an advertisement in the Tallahassee Democrat seeking singers for a new community chorus. She showed up, was one of the first people to join the Tallahassee Civic Chorale, and still is singing with the group as it celebrates its 20th anniversary. The group, she says, is an enjoyable mix of camaraderie and music.

“I’ve enjoyed the friendships as much as the singing,” Collins says.Barbara Lineberry, another longtime Tallahassee Civic Chorale member, agrees. She says the smaller size of the group is part of its appeal.

“We’re not a huge group, and we get to know each other better,” Lineberry says. She said she has fond memories from her years of involvement – even when they involved mishaps. Lineberry recalls a Tallahassee winter festival a few years ago when the chorus was performing in front of city hall.

“We took a portable piano with us,” she says. They were starting a Christmas carol when “all of a sudden, the piano came out with ‘When the Saints Go Marching In.’ It was a surprise to everyone,” Lineberry laughs.

The chorus has more than doubled in size from the 20 people who started the group with Collins. But the group is only about one-third the size of the Tallahassee Community Chorus. Over the years, the Tallahassee Civic Chorale has moved around Tallahassee, practicing at Raa Middle School and St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church, among other places, before settling in its current location, Tallahassee Community College.

Both Collins and Lineberry say they take satisfaction from the community outreach done by the group. For its major concerts, the Tallahassee Civic Chorale partners with a charity. For 2006, the charity is Big Bend Elder Care Services Inc. Outside the main concerts, members of the group perform “sing-outs” at retirement homes and nursing homes.

Chorale President Cynthia Valencic says the non-audition chorus averages more than 50 people a semester. She says its budget is covered by the $30 member dues, business sponsorships and assistance from Tallahassee Community College.

A major development in the history of the Tallahassee Civic Chorale was its decision to partner with Tallahassee Community College about six years ago. Now, about one-third of the singers each semester are TCC students.

“The Tallahassee Community College connection has been really great,” Valencic says. “It’s nice having student voices.” She says TCC provides the group with a free place to rehearse and a place to perform –  Turner Auditorium.

TCC Dean of Communications and Humanities Marge Banocy-Payne says the group “gives greater visibility of the college to the community, and it affords students the opportunity to perform.”

The arrangement calls for the music director of the chorus to be an adjunct faculty member at TCC. The college also makes its facilities available to the group. The Tallahassee Civic Chorale, in return, helps contribute scholarship money to TCC.

Banocy-Payne says that although she doesn’t sing, “it’s one of my favorite classes to observe. You can’t observe the class without going out with a smile on your face and a song in your heart.”

Mary Anne Hybart is a TCC sophomore and scholarship recipient. She says she likes the fact that “there are a lot of different ages – it is students and community members. I also love our director and pianist.”

The music director is Mike Norris, who also serves as the minister of music at First Baptist Church in downtown Tallahassee. He says the diversity of the chorus and its mix of students and volunteer community members can be a challenge for a director.

“I never know until the first rehearsal who will be there and what the voice balance will be,” he says.

Norris said the group is fortunate to have a strong volunteer board of directors, which allows him to focus on the music.

“The trend right now (in choral music) is do presentations that are eclectic in nature,” he says. “There is a ton of music out there written way back, but there is a ton written right now.”

For the upcoming fall concert in memory of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Norris is putting together a mix of music that he envisions as “tragedy to triumph. The concert is going to be a blending of choral music that is heartfelt and emotional, and essentially dealing with death and destruction on the one hand, then on the other hand overcoming adversity.”

He says his goal with the chorus is to get the members to move beyond just learning the notes on the pages.

“Choral music is more than that,” Norris says. “It’s blending voices and blending lives. I think there is real diversity of age and experience in this group.”

Valencic says the TCC connection has pushed the group to tackle more challenging music over the years.

“I think the thing that has changed the most in the 20 years is the quality of music that we’re doing. I think we are able to do harder, more complicated music than we have in the past.”

In addition to Norris, the group is served by Assistant Music Director George Wilkerson Jr. and accompanist James Amend.

Valencic says that despite the outreach, choral music is a tough sell in Tallahassee.

“People just don’t think about going to choral performances,” she says. “I don’t think they think on an arts level about going to hear choruses – they think of church choruses or something your kid was in during high school.”

But Norris says that if you like singing, you should consider joining the Tallahassee Civic Chorale.

“It’s a very fun group,” he says. “It’s a group that has a unique niche in our town. It is certainly a group that anybody who enjoys singing would like to be a part of.”

Categories: Music