Greenville Chorale Society History
The Greenville Choral Society, which will mark its 50th anniversary in 2019, has grown into perhaps the largest community-based performing arts organization in the eastern third of North Carolina, encompassing four choral ensembles that perform a wide variety of secular and sacred music in Pitt County and beyond.
The society grew out of an idea in 1969 to bring the music programs at East Carolina University and local churches together with talented local musicians. Choir directors at area churches met with ECU music faculty members in August 1969 to join “town and gown into a more personal and enduring relationship,” according to an earlier history of the choral society. More than 100 people formed the Greenville Community Chorus a month later.
The chorus, under the direction of Dr. Paul Aliapoulios, a member of the ECU music faculty, started rehearsals with approximately 120 voices at the university and presented its first concert, portions of Handel’s “Messiah,” in Wright Auditorium in December 1969. Aliapoulios remained with the group for two years before leaving Greenville for another academic position. He was succeeded by Robert Rausch, minister of music at Jarvis Memorial United Methodist Church, who directed the chorus for the next two years. Stephen Koch, a choral director in the Greenville City Schools, succeeded Rausch in 1974, and Dr. Edward Glenn, who also was on the ECU faculty, started a 3 ½-year tenure as director in 1976. Under his direction, the chorus presented two concerts each year, one in the Christmas season and one in the spring.
In 1980, the Greenville Community Chorus reorganized itself as the Greenville Choral Society, with Dr. Rhonda Fleming as artistic director and conductor. An ECU faculty member who also was director of the ECU Women’s Glee Club and music director at Immanuel Baptist Church, she emphasized developing a repertoire of major choral works for the group’s performances. In addition to performing such compositions as Benjamin Britten’s “Rejoice in The Lamb” and Bach’s “Magnificat,” the group joined with ECU choirs and orchestra on several occasions, presenting such works as Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Brahms’ German Requiem and Poulenc’s “Gloria.” The society also sang with the North Carolina Symphony Orchestra in a 1989 performance of Gustav Mahler’s “Symphony of a Thousand,” and collaborated with popular singing star Judy Collins in a November 2001 holiday concert as part of ECU’s S. Rudolph Alexander Performing Arts Series. Also in 1989, an orchestra called the New Carolina Sinfonia, made up of instrumental musicians from the community and the university, was added to accompany larger-scale choral works.
Working with and developing young choral musicians became a prominent goal of the choral society. Fleming founded the Children’s Chorus in 1988, for example, and a new Youth Chorale started in 1994. The Children’s Chorus consists of younger singers, generally in fourth through eighth grade, while the Youth Chorale is for talented high school-age singers. More recently, Bella Voce, a select group of young singers from both larger children’s and youth ensembles, has been formed.
Fleming directed the choral society for 17 years, retiring in 1997. In 2004, a scholarship was established in her honor, to be awarded to a graduating high school senior who participated in the society’s youth activities and intended to study music at the college level.
The various ensembles within the Greenville Choral Society have performed by invitation in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Williamsburg, as well as in several North Carolina communities, including Washington, Williamston, and Farmville.
Choral Society singers come from all walks of life and come from a geographical area broader than just Greenville and Pitt County. The Concert Choir encompasses a wide range of ages, from college students to retirees, and occupations, from teachers to college professors, from office workers to business owners, from lawyers to physicians, and includes some professional musicians, too. The various children’s and youth ensembles add about 100 more singers to the organization.
Choral society members are selected by audition and pay dues, as well as purchase their own music. The society sponsors several fund raising activities, mainly the sale of Christmas trees and greenery and the staging of a fund-raising “gala” in the spring. The gala usually consists of lighter and more contemporary music, including Broadway selections and music from television and movies. In addition to dues, fund raisers and grants, the Choral Society has raised money through community and corporate contributions, and, as a member of the Pitt-Greenville Arts Council, the society has participated in the Council’s United Arts Fund Drive. Since 2007, the Choral Society has retained a grants administrator to seek out new sources of financing.
GREENVILLE CHORAL SOCIETY DIRECTORS
1969-1972 Paul Aliapoulios
1972-1974 Robert Rausch
1974-1976 Stephen Koch
1976-1979 Edward Glenn
1980-1997 Rhonda Fleming
1997-2000 Paul Dease
2001-2008 Daniel Bara
2008-2014 Jeffrey Ward
2014-2016 Dwight Dockery
2016-2018 James Franklin
1994-1996 Rhonda Fleming
1996-1997 Jeff Parker
1997-1998 Jeff Baines
1998-2001 Christy West
Fall 2001 Lori McLelland
Spring 2002-2004 Michael Murphy
2004-2005 Kenneth Tice
2005-2007 Dan Bara
2007-2008 Jeff Ward
2008-2009 Eddie Adams/Blair Chadwick
2009-2010 Carolyn Myers
2010-2011 Peggy Vaughan
2011-2013 Chris Smith
2013-Present Luke Hancock
Children's Chorus/Bella Voce
1988-1997 Dr. Rhonda Fleming
1997-1999 Claire Chesson Murphy
1999-Present Paul Flowers