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Choral arts celebrates 10 years

March 31, 2003|by KEVIN CLAPP

kevinc@herald-mail.com

It was about a week after the February snowstorm that blanketed the Tri-State. Hagerstown Choral Arts had gathered for a rehearsal, and its rendition of "Lux Aeterna" soared, a sharp contrast to earlier attempts at the song.

Artistic Director Greg Shook wondered what the difference was.

His singers said the sun was out, an entirely appropriate response since, translated, Lux Aeterna means light eternal.

"They had to get emotionally involved with this music, more than usual, almost," Shook explains. "They're not just looking at notes on a page anymore. It's heart and soul, more than just the music. It's got more of their personality on it."

On Sunday, March 30, HCA aims to shed some heavy wattage at Hagerstown's Trinity Lutheran Church in celebration of the choral group's 10th anniversary. "Light Eternal with Choral Arts," featuring guest artist Ned Wetherald, will include selections from its first decade.

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An anniversary reception will follow the concert.

Hatched over a bowl of soup at the long-since-departed Dodsons restaurant on Summit Avenue in Hagerstown, Choral Arts is the brainchild of Shook and Wetherald.

Begun with a few dozen members and a Washington County Arts Council grant, its roster has swelled to as many as 110, though these days the group hovers between 85 and 90.

It is a manageable size, which has allowed Shook to branch out. He looks forward to continuing a partnership with Maryland Symphony Orchestra, and though the group has traveled a bit, he'd like to see them hit the road more often, perhaps to the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

Still, not all has run smoothly.

"There are still people in Hagerstown and this area that have never heard of us," Shook says. "We need to work harder, I guess, at getting the word out."

During Sunday's performance, the group will affectionately nod to the past by reprising songs from seasons past, from a Robert Frost poem set to music to audience favorite "Sing Me to Heaven," an oft-requested selection.

Wetherald, director of music ministry at State College (Pa.) Presbyterian Church, will conduct portions of the program with Shook, who says his HCA collaborator is among the most gifted musicians he knows.

Having left for Pennsylvania early in the group's development, Wetherald says he is just glad to be included in the program. A staunch advocate of community choral groups, he thinks they help build community.

"Music is a great equalizer. It doesn't matter if you're a lawyer or a factory worker or a teacher or a student," Wetherald says. "When you open your mouth to sing, you're revealing a piece of yourself that isn't revealed in other ways."

Shook wonders, sometimes, if it isn't time for him to move on, to hand the reins of Hagerstown Choral Arts to a fresh face with a new perspective.

Last fall, he admits, was one such period. Time passed; and then his singers surprised him with their passion at rehearsal a few weeks ago when their "Lux Aeterna" shone brighter than ever before.

The breakthrough illuminates just how far HCA can go.

"The people, they're very respectful. They take information, they process it and do it," Shook says. "I'm also blessed with great church groups. I guess that just holds me in place, that I have such wonderful groups to work with."

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