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St. George's Choral Society celebrates its 190th year
by Theodore Volckhausen for Vocal Area Network
Posted January 14, 2006

Its members believe the St. George's Choral Society is the oldest still-existing choral society in Manhattan. Despite financial challenges, the choir's members and the Board of Directors of the Society are trying to keep it that way. We offer members the opportunity to explore the choral repertory while singing in historic St. George's Church (1840). Glorious music, a beautiful setting and community spirit together create a challenging and uplifting musical experience. Rehearsals take place on Wednesday evenings in the Neo-Romanesque chapel -- whose history features J.P. Morgan -- on Rutherford Place facing Stuyvesant Square.

When it was founded in February of 1817, under the name St. George's Church for the Cultivation of Sacred Music, the Society's goal was to establish a school for the training of worshippers at the church in "Vocal Sacred Music." For this purpose, members were assessed fifty cents a year. For a long time, though, the emphasis of the Society has been on the presentation of choral music -- sacred and profane -- in public concerts. And the days of fifty-cent annual dues have long passed.

Nowadays the Society presents public concerts of choral music -- both sacred and profane -- to the Parish of Calvary/St. George and the surrounding city. Most concerts take place in St. George's Church, but occasionally the Society presents concerts elsewhere. In recent years, venues have included the neighboring Friends Meeting House; Calvary Church, on 21st Street and Park Avenue South; and Carnegie Hall. Over the years those concerts have included Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, Duke Ellington's Sacred Jazz, Britten's St. Nicholas, and "American Classics," with music by Copland, Samuel Barber and Randall Thompson. This season, the Choral Society performed Haydn's Lord Nelson Mass and Te Deum in C in the fall, and will be performing Rossini's Petite messe solonnelle on April 30. In addition, every summer, the Society sponsors a series of Summer Sing-Outs conducted by noted directors from choirs around the city.

In his second season as Artistic Director, Matthew Lewis is working closely with the Society's Board of Directors to expand the membership, and is preparing programs that continue to appeal to the varied community that surrounds St. George's. Especially in these troubled times, active participation in our common musical heritage offers an enriching haven. Dr. Lewis is Organist and Director of Music at the Church of the Incarnation in Manhattan, member of the organ faculty of the Juilliard School Pre-College division, Artistic Director and Conductor of St. George's Choral Society and Organist at Temple Israel in Lawrence, New York. At The Juilliard School, he completed the Doctor of Musical Arts degree as a student of Jon Gillock.

While earning the Master of Music degree, also at Juilliard, he was the winner of the organ competition, resulting in a performance of Barber's Toccata Festiva with the Juilliard Symphony in Alice Tully Hall. He has performed the complete organ works of César Franck several times, including at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City. Dr. Lewis is a frequent solo performer throughout the Unites States and France, where he has been a featured recitalist and a solo performer for numerous radio broadcasts. In addition, he is an active accompanist and vocal coach. He is the former recipient of a Fulbright Grant and the Annette Kade Fellowship from the Council of International Education for study in Paris, where he was a student of organ-virtuoso Marie-Madeleine Duruflé.

George Davidson, the Society's president since 2001, worries about the funds that will have to be raised to keep this 189-year old organization singing. But he is optimistic. "We've always had to attract singers, raise money from contributors, vigorously market our concerts and welcome new members. We're looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead." For membership info, contact the St. George's Choral Society at 212-996-3729 or stgeorgeschoralsociety@yahoo.com.

Theodore Volckhausen is the resident historian of the St. Geoge's Choral Society.

Content Contact: Theodore Volckhausen.
Revision Date: February 4, 2006.
Technical Contact: Steve Friedman.

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