Life in our Foothills January 2023 – Lifting a Voice in the Foothills

Published 1:47 pm Wednesday, January 18, 2023

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Celebrating the Community Chorus


Before the first note of rehearsal begins, Music Director Dell Morgan tells members of the Community Chorus they will have to adjust for the larger stage and space. Their first strains are immediately cut by the director.

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“You’re flat, that first note is flat,” states Morgan emphatically. The choir is settling in for its first practice in the cavernous auditorium at Polk County High School where they will perform their annual Christmas Concert in a few days. “Your soft notes will need to be loud, and your loud ones even louder!”

Community Chorus Christmas program Director Dell Morgan leads members through a song at Polk County High School.

Morgan is also quick to tell a couple of jokes to break the tension and bring levity to the 40 or so members of the community who make up the Community Chorus. As the laughter subsides, Morgan directs the pianist to begin and the chorus chimes in, this time pitch-perfect.

“Dell is full of life and makes our rehearsals go very fast,” says Linda Lee Reynolds, president of the Community Chorus. She’s held the post for the last eight years and has been a member of the chorus for approximately 20 years. “There’s no pressure, and he always seems to get out of us everything we can give.”

Morgan is well versed in chorus and organ work says Reynolds. He is also very involved in musical theater which is where Reynolds and accompanist Pam McNeil first met him working on a musical with Tryon Little Theater.

The Community Chorus is a mixture of people from the surrounding foothills with varying degrees of musical interests and backgrounds. Ages of the members for the Christmas concert range from 11 to 89 years of age, with several members being either married or related. 

Reynolds’ love of music starts with learning to play piano at age five, with lessons continuing through her senior year in high school. She has an illustrious musical career that includes being in the original Winston-Salem Symphony Orchestra as a concert bassist. She played in the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra as well.

Linda Lee Reynolds on bass and Pam McNeil on piano accompany the Community Chorus in rehearsals for the Christmas performance.

The effort to form a community group of choral musicians originates back to early 1973 when the late Ken Lackey recruited a group of singers from the foothills area under the direction of Tom Grenfell to present a program of music at the Tryon Fine Arts Center. Proceeds from the first spring concert were earmarked to support local Rotary programs. As such, the group would debut as The Rotary Community Chorus.

That first concert was such a success, a Christmas concert was soon added and established the tradition of two community concert performances per year.

In 1976, several members expressed the desire to evolve the chorus into a more permanent group and allow members to have a voice in the selection of the musical director and in the content of the programs. A constitution and by-laws were adopted and through the years, the group grew and evolved from The Rotary Community Chorus to the Tryon Community Chorus and again into the Community Chorus.

In homage to the chorus’ roots, proceeds from annual performances benefit the Tryon Rotary Scholarship Fund established to help local students with their educational pursuits.

Pam McNeil is one of the stalwarts in the Community Chorus. She serves as the accompanist. First recruited in 1990 by former director Anton Cedervall, she is an integral member of the Community Chorus with sixty-four concerts, more than 750 rehearsals, and some fifteen chorus directors under her belt. McNeil’s passion for community-based music and performance is the gold standard. In addition to the Community Chorus, Pam also plays for and directs productions with Tryon Little Theater and is currently the organist at the Tryon United Methodist Church.
“What I most enjoy about music is it touches people in a way no other art form can,” says McNeil. “It reaches into their memories. It reaches into their soul. Whether you are listening or playing, music can go into depths that make us essentially human.”

The one common thread that rings true for McNeil, Morgan and Reynolds is what makes the Community Chorus special. All three say it’s the people who commit their time and talent season after season.

Community Chorus members prepare for their annual Christmas concert.

“And, new members are always welcome,” says Reynolds. “There are no auditions, just a love of music and a willingness to be a part of something special and unique within the community.”

Rehearsals for the Community Chorus Spring Concert start on February 27 at the Tryon Presbyterian Church. Registration begins at 6 p.m. with rehearsals beginning at 6:30 p.m. The director for the Spring Concert is Brennan Szafron, organist and choirmaster at The Episcopal Church of the Holy Cross in Tryon. The Spring Concert is entitled “Bach on Broadway” and will feature a wide variety of music. The Spring Concert is set for May 7 at 3 p.m. at the Polk County High School.

In a historical retrospective, Wray Monroe Rotary Club of Tryon liaison to the Community Chorus from 1977 to 1993, states, “The (Rotary) Community Chorus has a great opportunity to provide expressions of the rich musical talent available in this lovely community for the entertainment and enrichment of all our people. We’re proud of it!”

Those sentiments still ring strong and true 30 years later.

Community Chorus members prepare for their annual Christmas concert.