Choral society adds themed concerts

When Kay Yates looked out from the choir into the audience during last November's Old Fashioned Hymn Sing, she knew the Piedmont Choral Society had struck a chord by adding a themed concert to their usual repertoire of mostly choral masterwork recitals.

She saw misty eyes in the congregation, as long-forgotten church songs unearthed old memories. She heard a chorus of requests from gentlemen in tweed suits as they offered up suggestions for the next song. Just the fact that barely a pew in the Forest Hill United Methodist Church sanctuary could spare an inch of space between the 300 attendees affirmed the choir's decision to branch out beyond their norm.

"There are so many people who enjoy different kinds of music," said Yates, president of Piedmont Choral Society. "Even though our mission is to do the master choral works, you can still do any kind of music, and do it well, and be fitting for our group to perform."

Since November, the 40-member singing ensemble known for giving choral masterworks a voice in the community has pondered the idea of adding themed concerts to their season as well. An evening of World War II era melodies, an all love songs recital in February, even a night of Broadway music might soon come to the ears of concert-goers. "I'm always thinking of something," said Yates, who sings alto in the group and dreams up many of the new ideas. "Sometimes I'm sure I drive the choir crazy."

For many in town, Piedmont Choral Society's annual spring and Christmas season recitals have become tradition, drawing thousands of music-lovers over the years and benefiting thousands of dollars to local charities.

Although the concerts have always been free, the group accepts an offering and people oblige, to the tune of $1,500 to $2,000 per concert. In the last several years, Hospice of Cabarrus County, Cabarrus Meals on Wheels and the Community Free Clinic have received donations from PCS.

"Since 2004 we've raised close to $20,000 for local non-profits," said Yates.

Officially named Piedmont Choral Society in 1997, the group has been around in one form or another for years. Many members, like Jim Griffith, come from the now-defunct Kannapolis Community Chorus, which began in the 1970s. Griffith, a retired bank vice president who sang bass in a few of the group's incarnations during the last 20 years, said the camaraderie and talent of this ensemble has reached a new high.

"The quality of the music has almost tripled," he said.

The addition of new concerts doesn't mean the masterworks will go away, said Yates. This weekend, PCS will join First Presbyterian Church in Concord's 30-member sanctuary choir and members of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra to perform John Rutter's "Requiem." Their annual spring and Christmas season recitals, as well as their summer patriotic concert will continue.

"We're just open to any kind of music now," said Yates. "We're trying to branch out and not only do just the choral masterworks. My true test is if I get cold chills when I'm singing it or hearing it."