Our Mission Statement
“The Williamsport Civic Chorus is an open community of singers dedicated to making fine music accessible to all through education, participation, and inspiration. Our diverse and inclusive membership welcomes all singers and listeners as we perform music from a wide range of cultures, ethnicities, and traditions.”
“Music for the people – by the people” has been the motto of the Williamsport Civic Chorus/Choir since 1944; the objectives are still the same: to study and perform choral works that will promote our individual and collective growth as well as that of our audience.
The history of the Williamsport Civic Chorus begins in 1933. At that time Fred Christian was a student at Princeton Theological Seminary and Walter McIver was a student at Westminster Choir School. The two met and became good friends.
When Dr. Christian came to Williamsport as pastor to Covenant Central Presbyterian Church, he introduced a graded choir program. There was much interest in this program among area residents. In 1940 he invited Walter McIver, then living in Harrisburg, to come and conduct a Community Summer Choir School. Mrs. Mary Landon Russell was their accompanist. The school was a great success. The following year, McIver became the Minister of Music at this church. After four years of summer choir school some members wanted training, year round, so they could form an organization and become a part of the musical life of Williamsport. A general invitation for members was issued to the public. Auditions were held for membership, and with 57 enthusiastic singers, their first rehearsal was held on September 10, 1944. Thus the Williamsport Civic Choir was formed.
The Choir’s first season 1944-45 consisted of two programs; Handel’s Messiah and the Brahms’ Requiem. Mary Landon Russell continued as accompanist. In 1947 the choir began holding rehearsals at Dickinson College (now Lycoming College) where Walter McIver had been appointed Instructor of Music. For the next few years they combined with the Lycoming College Choir for many of their concerts.
The first concert performed with an orchestra was Handel’s Messiah with the Williamsport Civic Orchestra at the Capital Theatre, to a standing room only audience. With the exception of two years, the performance of the Messiah or portions of it was presented annually until 1970.
August 31, 1949 the choir participated with other musical organizations in the first Community Hymn Sing, which was held in Brandon Park. The choir provided musical background and carol singing for Christmas lighting ceremony held on the Court House lawn November 25, 1949. This was an annual concert for a number of years.
The first “Pops Concert” was given at Lycoming College on June 16, 1952. A Civic Choir Award was established to be presented to the outstanding member of the Lycoming College Choir. This is still given annually.
On December 22 and 23, 1953 the Civic Choir presented a very special program of Menottis’ Amahl and the Night Visitors. Mrs. McIver was cast as the mother and the McIver’s son, Bill portrayed Amahl, as he had done on the NBC Television production. Audiences totaled over 2000.
A tenth anniversary concert was held on May 13-14, 1955. The mother from NBC’s Amahl performance, Rosemary Kuhlmann was soloist. Dr. John Finley Williamson, founder and conductor of the Westminster Choir was guest conductor.
The choir was part of the entertainment in the Little League World Series program August 24, 1956.
In 1959, Jay Stenger became the new director. He was a Lycoming College graduate and a member of the choir. Mrs. Irene Veley, a graduate of Curtis Institute of Music and a concert pianist, became the accompanist.
During this time, the choir participated in a Community Arts Festival and a community Messiah chorus of over 100 singers.
Paul Ziegler took over directing the Chorus in 1966. He was a graduate of Westminster Choir College. A small group know as “The Singers” was formed to sing at clubs and meetings, in the area.
In 1968, the name of the group was changed to the Williamsport Civic Chorus to reflect a modernized repertoire that included both sacred and secular music. In this same year, the Chorus incorporated as a non-profit organization.
Mr. Ziegler added light operas in their concert series. They included, The Student Prince, The Merry Widow, Li’l Abner, and Brigadoon.
Thomas Gallup, who was director of the Williamsport High School Choir, became director in 1978. A Dinner Pops Concert was featured that year. This became a tradition for several years.
Thomas Shellenberger took over as director in 1980. He was choral director for Loyalsock Township High School and Middle School. A production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore was featured that year.
In 1982, the Chorus provided the background music with the Susquehanna Valley Symphony for the Williamsport Civic Ballet’s annual production of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker.
The 1983-1984 season featured three guest conductors: Mary Mason, Director of Music at the Faxon-Kenmar Methodist Church, Dr. Kenneth Raessler, Supervisor of Music for the Williamsport Area School District, and Janet Rehman, who was an instructor at Williamsport Area High School.
Jolene Antista Jeffers, a member of the music faculty at Mansfield University, was appointed music director for the 1984-1985 season. The full Messiah was performed as well as Bach’s The St. John Passion. “An Evening with Irving Berlin” was the spring concert with guest conductor, Judy Gottschall, director at Messiah Lutheran Church.
The 1986-1987 season opened with a Mozart/Brahms concert directed by Gary Renzelman, professor of music at Lock Haven University. His wife, Mary, was accompanist for the season.
The 1987-1988 season began the ten-year directorship of Grace Kingsbury Muzzo. During that period, Grace also taught in the Jersey shore Public Schools, Lycoming College, and Bloomsburg University.
Accompanists for this period included Diane Peeling and Nancy Ackerman
In May 1988, music by composers of the West Branch Valley was featured in a concert at Lycoming College. They included: Richard Lakey, Patricia Wilhelm, Edward Erb, Michael Muzzo, Louise Stryker, Gary Renzelman, and Fred Thayer.
A series of concerts with the Williamsport Symphony Orchestra began in 1989 with the Mozart Requiem. Other joint concerts with the WSO have featured: Orff’s “Carmina Burana, Verdi’s Requiem, and Brahms’ A German Requiem.
On March 19, 1994, The Williamsport Civic Chorus celebrated its 50th Anniversary with a concert performed at the Community Arts Center. Along with Grace Muzzo, directing, and Nancy Ackerman, pianist, this concert featured the return of the Chorus’ founding director, Walter McIver and accompanist, Mary Landon Russell. A group of alumni singers rejoined the choir for the concert, including soloist Mark VanValin.
1995-1996 included the Bach CANTATA and Durufle REQUIEM, an opera concert with the Symphony and probably the highlight of the season, “Fascinating Rhythms: A Global Exploration in Song”. That performance included music from Bali to Trinidad, Israel, Africa and the Far East as well as American gospel. Anthony Leach, an instructor of music from Pennsylvania State University, directed the Chorus’ performance of African, African-American and West Indies music.
1996-1997 featured concerts with the WSO, the Commonwealth Brass Quintet, a Valentine’s Day Concert, performed in the Old (County) Jail, as well as an all-Mozart concert with guest director, Taylor Camerer. At this time Grace and Mike moved to Atlanta, GA, to pursue other musical endeavors including their singing with the famed Robert Shaw Chorale.
Ned Wetherald took the baton over in 1997. His first season featured the women of the Chorus and the WSO in a performance of Holst’s The Planets. The 1997-1998 season progressed with and an Abend Music concert, a John Rutter concert including his Requiem, and A Gershwin centennial celebration. The 1998-1999 season saw the Chorus perform Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus, a Messiah Sing-Along, and a Randall Thompson concert featuring “The Peaceable Kingdom” and “Frostiana”. WCC finished with a performance in the Williamsport Symphony Pops concert, singing music from Les Miserables. Our 56th season featured an extremely successful joint “Concert of the Millenium” with the West Branch Chorale and the Repasz Band. An overflow crowd filled the Scottish Rite Auditorium. Next was “December Daze”, a lighthearted look at the holiday season. In March, the WCC performed the Cherubini Requiem in C Minor. Finally, we joined forces with the Susquehanna Valley Chorale in the Williamsport Symphony Orchestra performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Our 56th season was an ambitious one. In preparation for our tour to Central Europe, the season’s first concert included Dvorak’s Mass in D Major, Kodaly’s Laudes Organi and other “Jewels of Central and Eastern Europe”. We then performed a concert titled “Be Glad Then America” named for the Billings’ piece. That concert, as its name implies, featured American composers. Finally, our last concert for the season was titled “Music of the Masters” featuring: Bach, Handel, Mozart, and Haydn. Before going on tour our Tour Choir sang at the Susquehanna Arts Festival on the Penn College Campus, where we exhibited along with numerous other arts organizations. In June, the Tour Choir performed as we traveled in the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary. For more info and photos, see the 2001 Tour Page .
The 57th season started with an all-Schubert concert that included the premiere of the Williamsport Civic Chorus Consort. The Consort is small group of auditioned singers that performs some of the more challenging music. A Messiah Sing-Along was held for charity. In honor of Women’s History Month, the Chorus performed a concert of “Music by Women Composers”, held at Lycoming College and featuring a pre-concert lecture by Dr. Susan Wheatley from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. The 58th season concluded with “The Rest of Messiah, Parts II & III” of Handel’s work. The Chorus, once again participated in the Susquehanna Arts Festival, where a group of our strolling singers performed. They finished with a trolley ride to Victorian Sunday, near Ways Garden, where they strolled and sang again.
The 58th season was full of pleasant surprises. Our “Made in America” concert at the Park Place exceeded attendance capacity. The Chorus sang in the former railroad hotel of Williamsport’s hey day during the lumbering era. The Chorus performed some songs from America’s patriotic and folk traditions including a set from Fred Waring’s repertoire. Next, the Chorus mounted a Brahms’ Requiem performance with two piano accompaniment, that was broadcast on WVIA-FM. The season concluded with a concert based on “Freedom” and featured American spirituals, Hansen’s Song of Democracy and the wonderful Holocaust Cantata by Donald McCullough.
The 59th Anniversary Season included a celebration dinner for the members. Our first Concert entitled “Peace and War” featured a modern work by Bradley Nelson called For Whom the Bell Tolls that stretched the talents of the Chorus. Following, was our “Turtles and Dragons” concert intended for both children and adults. It featured The Song of Wisdom from Old Turtle based on the book of that name by Douglas Wood. Mr. Wood was invited to Williamsport to narrate the performance, which he did with much fanfare. The Chorus also staged The Reluctant Dragon, with music by John Rutter. Finally, “To the Baltics and Russia with Love”, our last concert, was prepared for a future tour to Europe. The concert featured pieces from Russia, Lativia and Estonia. An American section was included to highlight the Chorus’ background.
The 61st season presented unique opportunities as well as challenges. The first concert was in collaboration with the Williamsport Chapter of the American Guild of Organists. The concert featured music written for royalty. We joined with the American Guild of Organists (AGO) since they represent the “King of Instruments.” Music included some of George Frideric Handel’s “Coronation Anthems,” “Funeral Music for Queen Mary” by Henry Purcell, “I Was Glad” by Hubert Parry, and some contemporary music using “king” and “queen” in a slightly different light. The second concert was of humorous music from the classics to the present, centered around the Knock, Knock Cantata by PDQ Bach (1807-1742?). In addition to the music of PDQ Bach, the concert included music by Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880), Henry Purcell (1659-1695), and John Rutter (b. 1945) that included madrigals, love songs, and even a piece for speaking chorus. Ken Sawyer (from WRAK Radio) was emcee and led both the Chorus and audience through this concert of humor with knock-knock jokes (of course), knee slappers, and groaners, all in the interest of fun! Finally, our last concert was the Mendelssohn favorite, Elijah. Do to an unfortunate illness, Ned was unable to direct Elijah and was able to arrange for the services of Dr. Douglas Miller, professor emeritus of music from Pennsylvania State University. The performance went splendidly, and Ned returned for the 62nd season.
The 62nd season was very unique. First “A Canticle Concert” at St. Mark’s with instrumental and organ accompaniment. The second concert, at Penn College, was in honor of Williamsport’s bicentennial and featured music that highlighted the area’s history. Finally a very emotional concert, Sing for The Cure, that was commissioned for the Susan G. Komen Foundation, raised almost $1200 in funds that the Chorus donated to Susquehanna Health’s Kathryn Candor Lundy Breast Health Center.
The 63rd season began with a concert that honored the 10th anniversary of Ned Wetherald’s directorship, called “Everyone’s Favorites”. Next in the same season we performed a “Family Holiday Concert” with many seasonal favorites’ including John Rutter’s Gloria. In the winter, a “Once Upon A Time” concert for the whole family was presented. The season ended with a rousing performance of the Mozart Requiem.
The 64th season included our “To Saint Cecilia” concert featuring the Norman Del Joio work by that name and a brass/percussion performance of the Fanfare for the Common Man. Our holiday concert included the Christmas portion of Handel’s Messiah as a Sing-Along as well as Britten’s Ceremony of Carols. The next concert, “Rejoice in The Lamb”, featured the work by Benjamin Britten by the same name and the Durufle Requiem. The season ended with a performance of Carmina Burana that included double piano, percussion ensemble, and combined ensembles with a youth choral group from Bucktail High School in Renovo.
Our 65th season included three concerts. St. Paul was performed in honor of Mendelssohn’s 200th birthday. For Women’s History Month in March, the WCC performed Amy Beach’s Grand Mass, and in April, for National Poetry Month, a series of pieces based on poems was performed including a poem written by student poet Maja Ostojic with music composed for the occasion by Ned Wetherald.
Also with three concerts, our 66th season (2009-10) featured “The Music of Faure” with orchestral ensemble, “Coffee and Dessert” with both musical and edible feasts served up in the Park Place banquet hall, and a “House Sing” that included pieces about homes as a benefit concert for the local Habitat for Humanity chapter.
Again in the 67th season, the Chorus supported a non-profit community group, this time Family Promise of Lycoming County, which works to help preserve families facing homelessness. The Fall concert held at Penn College was a tremendously successful, partially staged version of Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penance. Returning to sacred music in the Spring, the Chorus performed Bach’s St. John Passion on Palm Sunday, 2011, complete with soloists and orchestra.
For its 70th gala anniversary season (2013-14), the Chorus mounted two very different performances. First was “An Afternoon with Mother Goose” that featured renowned storyteller Fiona Siobhan Powell narrating various nursery rhymes with historical commentary, followed by choral renditions. The audience was overwhelmingly comprised of the young and young-at-heart, with the tiniest ones gathered on-stage at the singers’ feet. Fast forward to Palm Sunday, the Chorus performed what some critics call the crowning gem of all choral compositions, J.S. Bach’s Mass in B Minor. It was an ambitious program and very well executed, with kudos to maestro Wetherald, our talented chamber orchestra, and to five top-notch featured soloists. In its 71st season, the Chorus presented three concerts, “Ghoultide Scarols”, “Praise Parisienne”, and “A Cloud of Witnesses”. The latter eponymously-named piece was an original composition by Music Director Wetherald, who created it to honor the ordinary people who have affected all of us in extraordinary ways. It was both a tribute to Mr. Wetherald’s late son, Noah, as well as Ned’s signature accomplishment with the Chorus prior to his retirement at the end of the 2014-15 season.
Now, in 2015-16, we have enthusiastically welcomed Michael Connor as he stepped up to the conductor’s podium as our newly-selected music director. Mike is no stranger to the Chorus, having been a frequent guest soloist with us as well as occasional conductor.
During Mike’s first season with us, he programmed a joint concert for Oktoberfest with the Chorus and members of Williamsport’s German-singing Gesang Verein Harmonia, which he also directs. Then there was the Rutter Gloria performed as part of a Glorious Christmas concert, followed in April by another wonderful collaboration to present Karl Jenkins’ Requiem, this time with the Turning Pointe School of Ballet accompanied by a taiko drummer and shakuhachi flautist.
During the Chorus’ 73rd season in 2016-17, we performed four different major concerts. First was a “Salute to Veterans” that took place on consecutive November evenings in Mill Hall and in Williamsport. On Super Bowl Sunday, we staged “The Body Electric” in UPMC/Susquehanna’s main lobby to reinforce the importance of healthy bodies in sport and athletic accomplishment. The very next week saw the Chorus on stage with the Williamsport Symphony Orchestra, the Lycoming College Choir, and the Williamsport Chamber Choir for a rousing rendition of Gustav’s Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 called “Resurrection”. In late May, the Chorus took a very different turn to a later 20th century genre. Orchestrated by Mike Connor and Dave Brumbaugh, we teamed with the young vocalists and instrumentalists of the regionally acclaimed Uptown Music Collective to present a vocal-heavy classic rock ‘n roll concert, featuring works by The Beatles, Madonna, U2, Michael Jackson, Leonard Cohen, and others at the Community Arts Center.
The 2017-18 season featured wonderful, big pieces of music. It commenced with the traditionally British “Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols” during a candlelight performance in the sanctuary of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church. For Black History Month in February, the Chorus collaborated with Penn State’s Essence of Joy Alumni Singers led by Dr. Anthony (Tony) Leach to perform gospel music and spirituals in front of an adoring audience. In May, we spanned the centuries, singing major works by Mozart and Poulenc along with four vocal soloists and accompanied by a five-piece orchestra.
During 2018-19, the Chorus presented two concerts of its own–a November performance of “Journeys Within and Beyond” that featured contemporary music about paths we traverse spiritually as well as spatially, including “Song For the Mira,” “Blackbird”, and Michael Connor’s own composition, “Invictus.” Our spring concert in May, called “American Choral Classics,” was a preview of many of the pieces we would sing on tour later that summer. The Civic Chorus also appeared once again as a guest choir with the Williamsport Symphony Orchestra in a monumental (if snowy) performance of Anton Bruckner’s Te Deum, with our own Michael Connor appearing as tenor soloist (in addition to his having prepared the Chorus for its role). In June and early July, our 38-member Tour Choir performed as we traveled to Ireland and sang in four fabled churches–St. Nicholas Collegiate Church in Galway, the St. Fin Barre Cathedral in Cork, and St. Patrick’s and Christ Church Cathedrals in Dublin. In each of those glorious settings, our spirits soared as we presented sung services and largely American choral selections to appreciative listeners of locals and tourists alike.
The Chorus celebrated its 75th anniversary during the 2019-20 season, with a “Sing Hallelujah” concert of favorite pieces that capped off a gala weekend and dinner for former and current singers, supporters, and conductors, the latter including Grace Muzzo, Ned Wetherald, and Mike Connor. As we moved into the early days of 2020, there were reports of individuals around the globe beginning to take ill from a novel respiratory virus. While unbeknownst to us, that virus was likely circulating in this area by the time of our February 9th “Pops Concert” that played to a full house in the lovely Clearstory Room of the Pajama Factory. Christian Humcke accompanied us on keyboard for his final regular stint with the Chorus, and he was joined by musicians on guitar, electric bass, and drums. As we now know, a SARS Co-V-2 global pandemic was declared in March, which effectively closed down all public gatherings (and much more) in order to contain the spread of contagion. This led to the cancelation of our intended May 3, 2020 concert that would have featured Sunrise Mass and other works by Ola Gjeilo, a concert that was finally realized on May 29, 2022. Called “Music for Peace and Reflection”, it was a joy to perform Gjeilo’s glorious and celebratory harmonies a full two years later than intended with a full chorus, a string orchestra, and a live audience!
The 1-1/2 years spanning the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic were challenging for everyone, our singers included. While trying to stay healthy, financially secure, and navigate one’s lives and responsibilities, art and music were vital to soothe our souls. Although the Chorus was unable to perform live during 2020-21, with masterful electronic know-how from tenor Eric Albert, Chorus members under Mike Connor’s direction did record two hybrid digital pieces that we shared online as music videos about five months apart. They were “O Holy Night” and Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies”.
Cautiously, the Chorus resumed in-person rehearsals in September 2021, enabling us to perform a holiday concert we called “A Rutter Christmas” in the sanctuary of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church on December 17. The Gjeilo performance described above that following spring concluded our comeback season, the first full season we had planned and executed since 2018-19. We now look forward eagerly to 2022-23.
Other musical highlights from past performances include:
- Bernstein, Chichester Psalms
- Bach, Magnificat, St. John Passion, Mass in B Minor
- Britten, Ceremony of Carols
- Haydn, Seven Words of Christ
- Schubert, Mass in G
- Haydn, The Seasons
- Randall Thompson, Testament of Freedom
- Brahms, Liebeslieder Waltzes
- Vivaldi, Gloria
- Rutter, Gloria
- Beethoven, The Choral Fantasia
- Stravinsky, Symphony of Psalms
- Mendelssohn, Elijah
- Haydn, Creation
- Mozart, Requiem
- Poulenc, Gloria
- Mozart, Coronation Mass
…just to name a few.