Like many great institutions, the Reynolds Chorus, which continues to branch out into new directions, was born of humble origins.
In 2000, Jude Martincic, the chorus’ executive director, Linda Disosway, and Jean Merritt, along with more than a dozen friends who loved music, started meeting together to sing for the sheer fun of it. These Reynolds Plantation neighbors became known as the Plantation Singers. They were the core of what is now the Reynolds Chorus, an organization that has now grown to more than 50 members and garnered a reputation for selling out shows – a group that is not only a talented choral group but more a well-rounded performance ensemble. This boom resulted from not only an increase in membership but from a conscious effort to push the envelope of a traditional chorus and be “off-book” in more ways than one.
“Adding our professional artistic director, Donna Brelsford, as well as our very accomplished accompanist, Amy Reber, to our group in 2004 allowed us to go beyond singing just for the fun of it to becoming the professional group as it now exists,” says Martincic.
Brelsford says the group’s most recent spring concert, ‘A Southern Tapestry,’ is a perfect example of how the group offers “a full performance, a complete entertainment experience.” That program, as well as several past themed performances, included wardrobes, cloggers, and percussion accompaniment, which fit perfectly in line with the Chorus’ aim at adding contemporary stylings to their programs and elements which relate to a diverse and family friendly show.
Brelsford continues, “That’s the approach we have with our members: ‘Who can do what?’ We are very open to tapping into the creative pool we have within our membership, such as dancing and adding instruments.”
A recent decision by the Chorus exemplifies its focus on inviting new talents and expanding its horizons. “One important step we took this past January was to ‘open the gates,’ so to speak, and open membership to residents of the entire lake area, not just those of Reynolds,” says Martincic.
Like a domino effect, this influx of new members led to networking, which brought a multitude of talent to the table for the Chorus to consider. “Once we opened up the membership, we sought out voices to fill soprano, alto, bass, and baritone positions,” says Martincic. “Then we were approached by some talented folks from the music community and we soon added a bass player, Tom Shalin, who adds a fullness accompanying our fabulous pianist, Amy Reber. Additionally we had Joseph Garcia, a music student at Lake Oconee Academy play percussion at our ‘Southern Tapestry’ concert. He was introduced to us by his mother, Lora Garcia from The Arts Barn, whose students danced in the program, as well. Their high energy clogging and kicks summed up a wonderful evening of a musical tour of the South.” Overall, she says, the Chorus is excited to see these new stylings bring additional audiences members to join those who have supported them over the past sixteen years.
It is this diverse pool of talent that not only takes their performances to the next level but also offers the Chorus other opportunities to grow and gain exposure. Rosters and auditions are currently being created for “patter groups,” which will consist of smaller groups of vocalists performing for specific events or venues that otherwise would be too small for the entire chorus.
“The Ritz invited us to do caroling, which inspired the idea of these patter groups,” explains Elaine Thillen, Chorus Publicity Chair. “We realized the potential in branching out to offer smaller group performances for special events and functions. Besides the benefit of exposure for us as a whole, these patter groups will also help drive fundraising, since we are entirely self-funded.”
Other than the patter groups, whose schedules will vary throughout the year, the Reynolds Chorus’ mainstay annual productions include the upcoming “Celebration of Freedom” performance, which is currently in full-swing rehearsal, and of course the popular Christmas Concert in early December. “We have a great song list of patriotic and touching tributes for the holiday concert, and with us all dressed in red, white, and blue, it will be an inspiring concert to both see and hear,” says Martincic.
The 8th Annual Celebration of Freedom begins at 8:30 a.m. on July 3 at the Plantation Point Pavilion with music presented by the Reynolds Chorus, OPAS, and Charnika Ross. Find the Reynolds Chorus on Facebook to keep up with the latest news and announcements.
Written and photographed by Phil Pyle