Preaching to the choir

Georgiann Toole directs the Antietam Women's Ensemble and singers at Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church

Georgiann Toole directs the Antietam Women's Ensemble and singers at Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church

April 27, 2006|by JANET HEIM

Editor's note: There are a lot of people you see around town that you recognize, but don't know anything about. People like ...

Georgiann Toole

Age: 47

Occupation: Director of The Antietam Women's Ensemble and Choir Director at Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

Hometown: Weirton, W.Va., near Pittsburgh

Where would you see Toole? The fruits of Toole's labor will be heard loud and clear this weekend as the Antietam Women's Ensemble presents its spring concert, "The Poet Sings." The musical selections will highlight love and life, with words of wisdom and humor sprinkled throughout.

A range of selections - from Shakespeare, Christina Rosetti and Lewis Carroll, to the poem that sparked the Red Hat Ladies movement - will be featured.


This is the fourth concert for the ensemble, which is in its second season. Toole started the group in the fall of 2004.

When Toole and her husband moved to Sharpsburg in 2001, there already were several mixed choral groups in the area. She decided to start a women's ensemble, aware that there was a lot of exciting music being written for women's choruses.

Toole said the newer music is more challenging and introspective than earlier compositions. She said the best musical options are either "very, very old or very, very new."

The rehearsal and concert schedules are designed to work around women's busy lives, with a concert in April before Mother's Day and graduations, and one in November before holiday preparations are under way. Both performances of the November 2005 concert sold out.

The group rehearses Monday nights at Trinity Lutheran Church in Sharpsburg, where they perform. The ensemble has grown from 19 members last spring to more than 30 vocalists, ranging in age from college age through senior citizens.

Toole said the group has grown through word-of-mouth and draws women from a wide geographical area - Inwood, W.Va., Shepherdstown, Harpers Ferry, Martinsburg, Smithsburg and Hagerstown.

This October, the ensemble will be part of a film festival that will focus on nature. It will be at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown. Last year, a visual component was added to the festival, and this year, a performing arts component is being added, Toole said.

Toole moved to the area about 30 years ago to attend Shepherd University. With an undergraduate degree in music education, a master's degree in conducting from Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va., and a doctorate in music education from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, she is eager to use her talents within the community.

Her mission for the women's ensemble goes beyond the beautiful music they make - she feels it should give back to the community. She strives to raise awareness for different issues through music.

Toole's inspiration comes from a quote by 20th-century composer Benjamin Britten - "I believe an artist should be part of his community, work for it and be part of it."

The upcoming concert is focused on literacy, with part of the proceeds going to local literacy efforts and to rebuilding libraries in New Orleans, Toole said. Previous concerts helped raise awareness for Tolson's Chapel, a historic building that has been acquired by a preservation group and now is being restored.

Toole plans far in advance to allow time to search for appropriate music. She already knows that next spring's concert will have world languages as its theme.

"I'm not terribly interested in a string of pretty pieces," Toole said. "I really like a concert to have shape."

She added that selecting the musical pieces for each concert is a time-consuming process that involves looking at many musical scores.

Toole, who has two sisters and a brother, started taking piano lessons when she was 6 or 7. She admits she wasn't one of those children with "a burning desire to play," but took lessons because her parents found an antique piano in the barn and wanted her to learn to play it.

It is one of three family pianos that Toole has inherited.

"Other people inherit silver and jewelry. I inherit pianos," Toole said.

Once Toole started playing, though, it became a passion and she played piano all the time, until her parents would tell her to stop.

After college, Toole taught middle school music for 10 years - in Martinsburg public schools, then at Country Day School near Charles Town, W.Va. Toole began work on her doctorate, then joined her husband, Brad, in Paris for the second year of a two-year stint where his job with Mack Trucks took him.

As the only staff member of the women's ensemble, Toole handles publicity and printing the programs herself. She said she works hard to keep the ticket price for concerts as low as possible, and that at $5 a ticket, it's about half what most other groups charge.

The spring concert will be Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. at Trinity Lutheran Church, on the corner of Church and Main streets in Sharpsburg.

For information, call Toole at 301-432-6964.

Hobbies: "My husband and I are sort of history buffs, in particular Sharpsburg," Toole said.

The couple loves to travel and enjoyed living in Paris, where they traveled throughout Europe. Toole said she also likes to garden.

What does Toole like best about Washington County? "It's very beautiful, for one thing, the landscape of the old towns," Toole said.

She also enjoys the diversity of people here, from the families who have lived here for generations to the new people moving in from all over the country.

If you know anyone in the community who might make an interesting Our Town feature, call Janet Heim at 301-733-5131, ext. 2024, or send e-mail to

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