The Commonwealth Chorale of Virginia

"Cultural Jewel in the Heart of Virginia"



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Search for New Director is Underway; Spring Concerts Coming in April!

Posted on March 4, 2019 at 5:35 PM Comments comments (779)

After 20 years of inspired leadership, Norma Williams has stepped down as Artistic Director of the Commonwealth Chorale.  A search for a new director is now underway.  For information about the opening for the position of Artistic Director, or about the upcoming spring concert season, interested persons may visit the Chorale's web page at

While the search for a new director continues, the Commonwealth Chorale will caryy on its tradition of bringing great music to area audiences with two exciting spring concerts.  The concerts will feature both the Chorale and Longwood University's Chanber Singers and Camerata Singers, under the direction of Dr. Pamela McDermott, Director of Choral Activities at Longwood.  The opening concert will be on Thursday, April 25, 7:30 Jarman Auditorium, 201 High St., Farmville, on the Longwood campus.  A repeat performance will be held Sunday, April 28, 3:00 p.m at Farmville United Methodist Church, 212 Hight St., Farmville, VA.  Concerts are free of charge and open to the public.  No tickets are required.

The spring concert repertoire will be varied, presenting music from the classical period to the present day.  Selections of earlier works include Mozart's Regina Coeli, K 276, "Gloria in Excelsis" from Antonio Vivaldi's Gloria, and the "Hallelujah" chorus from Handel's Messiah.  The wor of contemporary composers will be represented by an a cappella rendition of Alleluia. by Dr Gordon Ring, Professor of Music at Longwood University, as well as the featured selection, Gloria by John Rutter.

John Rutter is an English composer and conductor whose works have received popular and critical acclaim internationally.  Known mostly for his choral compositions, he has been affiliated with Clare College at Cambridge for many years.  According to the composer's web page, Gloria was written as a commissioned work for a choir based in the United States and first performed in Omaha, Nebraska in 1974.  The work is divided into three movements, cescribed by the composer as "respectively, proclamatory, prayerful, and joyfully affirmative."  The text derives from the hymn know as the Greater Doxology, or the Angerlic Hymn because it begins with the words "Gloria in excelsis Deo," as sung by the angels announcing the birth of Christ.  The melody is based on a Gregorian chant derived from this text.  The music is simple and direct, with the instruments (usually brass, percussion, and organ or piano) and voices playing an equal role.  The magnificent harmonies and joyful exuberance in Rutter's compositions provide an emotional uplift that is universally appealing to modern audiences, as shown by the fact that his music has been featured in a number of British celebratory occasions, including the two most recent royal weddings.  The Commonwealth Chorale is pleased to present this exhilarating program of eclectic music to area audiences.

Pianist Kimberly Parker to Accompany Chorale!

Posted on September 5, 2018 at 4:25 PM Comments comments (140)

The Commonwealth Chorale is pleased to announce that Mrs. Kimberly Parker, Adjunct Professor of Piano at Liberty University in Lynchburg, will accompany the Fall 2018 performances of Johann Sebastian Bach's Christmas Oratorio.  Mrs. Parker holds a BS in Piano Pedagogy from Bryan College and an MA in Music and Worship from Liberty University.  She has served as a member of the Liberty University faculty since 2015.  There she teaches applied piano and group piano classes for students pursuing degrees in education, performance, and church music.  She regularly performs as a collaborative pianist and soloist at Liberty and in the greater Lynchburg area.  She is also an active church musician and currently serves as pianist at Trinity United Methodist Church in Concord, Virginia.  Her professional affiliations include membership in the Music Teachers National Association and the Lynchburg Music Teachers Association.  In addition to her classes at Liberty University, Mrs. Parker maintains a thriving private piano studio in the Lynchburg area, where she teaches students ages 5 to 70.  She counts it a privilege to advocate, both through collaboration and teaching, for the lifelong pursuit of joy and excellence in music making.  In turn, the Chorale counts it a privilege to welcome the participation of such an accomplished musician to our ranks.

Hummel to be featured in Chorale Easter concerts

Posted on February 21, 2018 at 5:25 PM Comments comments (176)

By Marge Swayne

Richmond organist Jeffrey Hummel is a musician who appreciates both the past and present.  Sitting at the console of a Von Beckerath organ at Farmville Presbyterian Church, he comments on the Old World skill that created the extraordinary pipe organ.  At the same time he notes the advantages of today's technology. 

"When I was asked to accompany the Commonwealth Chorale for Mozart's Requiem, there was a problem," Hummel says.  "No organ-only accompaniment seemed to be available."  

At that point, Hummel, a member of the Richmond Chapter of the American Guild of Organists, did something Mozart could never have imagined.  "I put it out on Facebook," he relates.  "Fortunately, a woman in Maryland responded."

A fellow organist told Hummel she had transcribed the entire Requiem for organ.  "She sent the music by email--on pdf files," Hummel adds.  ""It was wonderful--very well done.  She shared it out of the kindness of her heart, and I'm very thankful."

The Requiem, Hummel notes, is seldom accompanied by organ.

"The organ doesn't lend itself particularly well to all those fast repetitive notes," he explains.

Mozart was commissioned to write his Requiem in July, 1791.  Several months later, this requiem would become his own.  Mozart died December 5, 1791, before the work was completed.

"There are certain parts of Mozart's Requiem, 'Lacrymosa,' for instance, that are almost ethereal--not earthly at all," Commonwealth Chorale Director Norma Williams adds.  "Audiences respond to that in a very personal way."

The same might be said for the works of Handel.  Both composers will be featured in the Chorale's Easter Concert Series with two Farmville performances on March 11 at Farmville Presbyterian Church and March 18 at Farmville United Methodist Church.  Hummel, who will accompany the 76-member chorale, is excited about performing on two of Farmville's finest pipe organs.

"There aren't many Von Beckerath organs in Virginia," Hummel explains.  "It's called a tracker organ because the mechanical action is on trackers that lead back to the pipes.  When you press down on one of the keys, the tracker runs back and opens a valve on the pipe.  That's why the console has to be up against the organ pipes and can't be moved."

Rudolph von Beckerath, 1907-1976, was a German organ builder.  His grandfather was a personal friend of Brahms, and his father was an artist and musician. Farmville Presbyterian's Beckerath organ was build by Taylor & Boody organ company in Staunton and installed in 1968.

"Each organ builder has a unique sound," Hummel notes.  "German organs sound very different from French or English organs."

The pipe organ in Farmville United Methodist Church (UMC) was build by Austin Organ Company in Hartford, Connecticut, and installed in 1974.

"An organ is measured by the number of pipes and ranks," Farmville UMC Organist Gordon Ring says.  "Farmville UMC's organ has 1,543 pipes and 30 ranks with 904 pipes visible and the rest in the chamber behind the exposed pipes."

The organ console, unlike the Presbyterian organ, is electrically controlled.  It includes three 61-note keyboards and a pedal board of 32 notes.

John T. Austin, who was born in England and immigrated to Detroit in 1889, founded Austin Organs Inc. in 1893.  The company notes that many Austin organs from the late 19th century are still in use today.

Hummel, who plays the organ and accompanies the choir on piano for three services every Sunday at Third Church in Richmond, favors the organ.

"I tell people the organ is the 'king of instruments' for good reason," he says.  "The organ can imitate the sound of just about any other instrument."

The pipe organ definitely adds another dimension in sound.

"Sounds from individual pipes in the organ are not combined until they reach your ears," Farmville UMC Choral Director Dr. Pam MacDermott says.  "When you listen to a pipe organ, your brain is the processor."

Experience the powerful Easter message of hope and rebirth in Mozart's Requiem and Easter selections from Handel's Messiah on March 11 at Farmvile Presbyterian Church and March 18 at Farmville United Methodist church.  Both free performances are at 3:00 p.m., and all are invited. (Early arrival is suggested; the December concert at Farmville UMC was standing room only by 3 p.m.)

Standing Room Only!

Posted on February 14, 2018 at 4:30 PM Comments comments (834)

Our two December Messiah performances were widely attended, receiving great acclaim from our audiences, proving again the lasting appeal of this beloved oratorio.  The wonderful performance by the orchestra, comprised of many young instrumentalists from the Richmond Youth Symphony as well as more seasoned musicians, made our biennial Messiah even more exciting for the Chorale members as well as the audience.  We received many compliments: Rick Erickson commented:  "What a dynamic performance this afternoon.  Your group did a wonderful show.  I attended the same show last week in Richmond performed by the Richmond Symphony and Choir.  Even with their very large choir and orchestra they had nothing on today's performance.  The song at the end was super!"  Peggy Hargrave:  "Excellent!  Was there for your Farmville United Methodist performance and it was superb!  Definitely got me focused on why we sing Christmas and Easter, all in one experience.  Was sitting in the balcony where I could see all your faces and that made it extra special indeed.  Those of you who know this work well know who you are.  You literally poured your heart out in your voices.  There was a tremendous sense of Togetherness with a capital T, in every way.  The Richmond Youth Symphony were quite extraordinary.  I do believe Handel himself would have been pleased."  As always, we are grateful to our faithful audience members and our generous supporters.  We could not do what we do without all of you.

Messiah Rehearsals to begin October 10!

Posted on September 24, 2017 at 4:00 PM Comments comments (860)

By Marion Carter

Interested singers are invited to join the Commonwealth Chorale in rehearsing Georg Frideric Handel's magnificent oratorio, Messiah, in preparation for performances in December.  Rehearsals begin October 10, 7-10 p.m. at the Farmville Presbyterian Church Fellowship Hall, 200 West Third Street.  All singers are welcome; no auditions are required.  Young singers age 12 and over are also invited to participate.  Performances will take place at 3:00 p.m on Dec. 3 at Crenshaw United Methodist Church in Blackstone and at 3:00 p.m. on Dec. 10 at Farmville United Methodist Church. 

As one of the best known and most loved oratorios of all time, Messiah needs little introduction.  It has been a fixture of the holiday season all over the world for generations, especially in Britain and the United States.  For many choirs and orchestras, a performance of Handel's masterpiece is the high point of the year.  As the Christmas season approaches, audiences flock to hear the beloved work performed, sales of recordings soar, and no festival concert would be complete without at least a rendition of the "Hallelujah" chorus.  However, Messiah was not conceived as or originally performed as a Christmas piece.  Librettist Charles Jennens drew his inspiration from both the Old and New Testamernts of the King James Bible.  Only the first third of his manuscript covered the birth of Jesus.  The main emphasis of the work was on Christ's death and resurrection.  Thus it was regarded as being primarily associated with Easter rather than with Advent, as in modern times.  Indeed, the premiere performance took place during the Lenten season of 1742. 

Though born in 1685 in Halle, Germany, Handel went to England in 1712 to live and work, where he established his reputation in Italian opera.  As public taste in music changed, he began writing English oratorios which achieved wide acclaim.  When he received the Messiah libretto from Charles Jennens, he immediately recognized its commercial possibilities and began composing the music, finishing in only 24 days.  Because the work was sacred music, but was intended for popular entertainment in a concert hall or theatre rather than a church, Handel must have known that clerical authorities would disapprove of the production. This may explain why he inscribed the letters "SDG" (Soli Deo Gloria) "To God alone the glory" at the end of his manuscript.

The premiere performance of Messiah was held on April 13, 1742, in Dublin where Handel was working at the time.  It was mounted as a charity event with the proceeds being donated to prisoners, orphans, and the sick.  Handel, who had earlier suffered and miraculously recovered from a stroke that caused temporary paralysis and brain damage, explained, "I have myself been a very sick man, and am now cured.  I was prisoner, and have been set free."  Despite the performance being for charity, Handel had trouble recruiting singers due to objections from religious leaders.  The Dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Jonathan Swift of Gulliver's Travels fame, threatened to forbid his cathedral singers to participate with "this club of fiddlers."  The fact that Handel chose Susanna Cibber, a stage actress who was embroiled in a scandalous divorce, as the contralto soloist did not help the situation with Dean Swift. The Dublin audience, however, had no such qualms; more than 700 people crowded into a concert hall designed to hold 600.  In order to squeeze in additional paying customers, the sponsors asked the ladies not to wear hoops under their skirts and the gentlemen to refrain from wearing swords.  The premiere was an overwhelming success. In spite of her notoriety, Susanna Cibber received rave reviews.  Reportedly, a Dublin clergyman, the Rev. Delaney, was so moved by her rendition of "He Was Despised" that he rose to his feet and cried, "Woman, for this be all thy sins forgiven thee!"

After the Dublin concerts, Handel moved production of the oratorio to London, but his success was not repeated there, even though he tried to defuse the sacred-secular issue by calling his work "The New Sacred Oratorio" instead of the more Biblically inspired "Messiah."  The tradition of standing during the "Hallelujah" chorus supposedly began after this first performance in London, at which it is reputed that King George II was so moved that he rose and stood throughout the chorus. This is probably mythical, as there is no evidence that the king actually attended the performance.  In any case, the lukewarm reception of Messiah in London caused Handel to reduce the number of planned performance of the work, to the great disgust of librettist Jennens.  The work did not achieve wide popularity in England for several years.  However, by 1750, audiences had realized its worth, and Handel performed it thirty-six times over the years, more than any other of his works.  On April 6, 1759, when he was blind and in failing health, he attended his final performance of Messiah at Covent Garden.  He died eight days later at his home in London, at age 74.

Good Luck and Godspeed to David Salvage!

Posted on April 26, 2017 at 5:10 PM Comments comments (4372)

We were fortunate to have Dr. R. David Salvage, gifted pianist and accompanist, with us for last fall's performance of Elijah, and again for this spring's Requiem.   We now must say goodbye to him as he travels to Bologna, Italy, for further work and study. In introducing David at the first rehearsal, Norma described his playing as the "gold standard," which certainly proved to be the case.  We will miss his skill and inspiration at rehearsal, and his stunning virtuosity in performances.  Godspeed and Good Fortune, David!

Requiem: A Work for the Ages

Posted on March 14, 2017 at 1:30 PM Comments comments (383)

By Marion Carter

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, perhaps the most remarkable and prolific musical genius in history, was born in Salzburg, Austria, on January 27, 1756, the youngest of the only two children of Leopold and Anna Maria Mozart to survive infancy.  A musician specializing in the violin, Leopold soon recognized Wolfgang's musical gifts and came to the conclusion that he had fathered a genius.  At age three, the boy began to pick out chords on the clavier, and by the next year was able to compose brief musical pieces which his father wrote down.  Mozart's biographer, the eminent historian Paul Johnson, describes Mozart's grasp of music thusly:  "at an early age, music entered so completely into his physical and intellectual system that it became his nature:  he played and composed as he breathed, and the fluidity and speed--and accuracy--with which he wrote music and orchestrated it became a phenomenon..."  This early facility set the tone for the rest of Mozart's musical career.  Because he began composing at such a young age and worked so relentlessly, even to the point of continuing to compose on his deathbed, his lifetime output was enormous.  There was scarcely a month, often even a week, when he did not produce a substantial score.  Franz Liszt once remarked that Mozart actually composed more bars than a trained copyist could write in a lifetime.  Despite the vast number of his compositions and the rapidity at which he produced them, Mozart seldom made a mistake.  A large number of his scores survive in his careful and exceptionally accurate handwriting, showing no errors or corrections of any kind.  Although he died at the tragically early age of thirty-five, the world is fortunate that his too-brief musical career was brimming with creation.

It seems fitting that the work Mozart was composing on his deathbed was the profoundly moving Requiem, the traditional Mass for the Faithful Departed.  The monumental work is unique in his repertoire for its unusual orchestration.  Using a creative blend of instruments, including basset horns, bassoons, trombones, a continuo section of organ, and strings in lower registers, Mozart achieved a musical portrait of grief, pain, and lament that is unexcelled in its raw intensity and emotional power.  The first movement opens with the comforting words, "Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine" (Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord) followed by the ancient plea for mercy, "Kyrie eleison."  In the second movement, the mood quickly becomes dark and somber, even wrenching.  The dramatic choruses "Dies irae" and "Confutatis" and the quartet "Tuba mirum" vividly depict the torments of the unredeemed in the dreadful wrath of Judgment Day.  In stark contrast, coming between the majestic "Rex tremendae" and the apocalyptic fury of "Confutatis," the quartet "Recordare" is devasting in its tender beauty.  The second movement ends with the heartbreakingly lovely "Lacrimosa," perhaps the best known of all the choruses.  Many scholars believe the first eight bars of "Lacrimosa" to be the last music Mozart ever composed.  Beginning the third movement, the gorgeous choruses "Domine Jesu," "Hostias," and "Sanctus" offer prayers for deliverance and praise to a merciful God.  The glorious quartet "Benedictus" and the final choruses, "Angus Dei" and Lux aeterna," plead for a forgiving God's blessing and eternal rest for the  faithful departed, completing Mozart's masterpiece as it began.

For all its solemnity, throughout Requiem there is an underlying current of hope, peace, and redemption.  Paul Johnson postulates that despite the somber subject, even when dealing with the music of death, indeed with death itself, Mozart's faith in God along with his naturally optimistic disposition would not permit him to write music that was wholly sorrowful.  Mozart's own words seem to bear this out "...death's image is not only no longer terrifying to me, but is indeed very soothing and consoling and I thank my God for graciously granting me the opportunity...of learning that death is the key which unlocks the door to our true happiness. I never lie down at night without reflecting that--young as I am--I may not live to see another day.  Yet no one of all my acquaintances could say that in company I am morose or disgruntled/"  In Requiem, perhaps it was Mozart's ability to counter the anguish and terror of death with transcendent faith that has captured the human imagination and made his last composition a work for the ages.  The Commonwealth Chorale is proud to bring this sublime masterwork to the communities of Southside Virginia.

Comments From New Member Winslow Stillman:

Posted on February 22, 2017 at 5:10 PM Comments comments (115)

Winslow Stillman, tenor, shares his thoughts on singing with the Commonwealth Chorale:  "As a newcomer and out of towner, I had attended a couple of performances by the Commonwealth Chorale and appreciated the musicality of the ensemble as well as the unmistakable dynamic of Norma's direction.  And this is really where the Chorale begins, at the podium.  Norma Williams is a marvelous leader.  Her artistic pedigree is at the top of the world of classical performance, and to be under her direction is as much a privilege as it is a lesson in the love of music.  This past fall I joined the chorus and sang Mendelssohn's Elijah.  Not only was it a personal introduction to the brilliance of the composer, it was a terrific experience to be welcomed by the group and infused into the blend of voices.  It is a challenge to jump into an esteemed group and to learn such a high caliber composition, but being made to feel at home by everyone created a richly enjoyable and highly rewarding musical experience.  Looking forward to doing it again."

Attention Amazon Shoppers!

Posted on February 19, 2017 at 1:30 PM Comments comments (533)

The Commonwealth Chorale, a registered charitable organization, is now participating in the Amazon Smile program.  Amazon wil donate .05% of the purchase price of eligible items purchased through their website by a buyer who designates the Commonwealth Chorale as beneficiary. To make sure your purchase benefits the Chorale, use the following  link to access the Amazon website:  This will take you directly to the page in support of the Commonwealth Chorale, from which you can make your purchase as usual. Because the Amazon Smile program is intended to be an online program only, the rules stipulate that participating charities may only publicize their involvement with the program through electronic media, such as our website, e-mail, and social media such as Facebook and Twitter.  We may not advertise our connection with Amazon Smile through any offline printed matter, such as brochures, flyers, or our performance programs. So send all your friends who shop on Amazon our unique link, by e-mail or social media, and let's start accumulating donations to support our organization!

Dr. Salvage To Play For Spring Concert Season!

Posted on October 5, 2016 at 4:30 PM Comments comments (26)

We are honored to announce that Dr. R. David Salvage will be pianist for our upcoming presentations of Mozart's Requiem.  Dr. Salvage is a composer and pianist.  His music has been called "elegant [and] smartly realized" (Sequenza21) and "refreshingly eclectic" (American Record Guide).  His piano, chamber, vocal, and orchestral works have been performed by many of America's most gifted muscians, including the Arcturus Chamber Ensemble, the Rosetta String Trio, the Monticello String Quartet, the Cygnus Ensemble, Mary Ann Archer (flautist), Miranda Cuckson (violinist), Thomas Meglioranza (baritone), David Thomas (clarinetist), and the Newark-Granville Symphony Orchestra (OH).  He has been a featured performer on the Bologna Estate Festival, a resident artist with the Atlantic Center for the Arts, and he is an alumnus of the Conservatoire Americain in Fontainebleau, France.  He has taught at the Brooklyn College Conservatory of Music and privately in Bologna, Italy.  He is also the creator of the music blog  A selection of pieces from Albumleaves, performed by Salvage, appears on the album Lock and Key (Navona Records 5881).  In 2013, he completed the score for the independent film Thank you, Cabbage (directed by Mitch Magee).  His composition teachers have included Richard Danielpour, David Lewin, and Jeff Nichols, and he has studied piano with Peter Takács and Miyoko Lotto.