In a town where weird rules, and terms like “Moogfest” and “LaZoom” are everyday references in the hip Asheville cultural scene, there might be no less exciting a phrase than “choral society.” At first glance, it doesn’t scream sexy. It does, however, sing out a few choice descriptors: classic, timeless, challenging, prolific.
The average person’s exposure to choral music is much bigger than one might think, and you don’t have to go to a concert to hear it. Film scores, soundtracks, video games, and commercials regularly feature choral music. It is so prevalent a tool for setting a scene or creating atmosphere that most people are simply not conscious of it. The more common association is instead your mother’s—or grandmother’s—church choir, where the squeaks and flats might be the punctuation to hymns sung for generations.
Thousands of excellent church choirs create beautiful music, but the Asheville Choral Society is in a league unto itself. Imagine a window into time that allows you to watch Michelangelo create one of his famous works of art. That is what it is like to listen to the Asheville Choral Society.
The choral tradition enjoys one of the largest and oldest performance art mediums. More people sing in choruses than participate in any other performing art, and the choral tradition transcends time, language, religion, and culture. The art of choral music is actually in its ability to connect diverging and dissonant elements—unifying the many into a whole. It’s refreshing to see an art form that devotes the entirety of its focus to togetherness. Think about the rarity of successfully getting more than 100 individuals to do anything together, and you can see why this single-minded focus is particularly special. Now take that power of focus and make it art.
Asheville is lucky to have a group of musicians willing to take on the world’s most challenging and beautiful choral compositions, and they have been doing just that for more than 35 years. This professional chorus is comprised, not surprisingly, of area musicians, conductors, music teachers, and other music professionals, ranging in age from 18 to 80. The 100-singer-strong chorus, directed by Dr. Melodie Galloway, presents three concert programs each season. The music ranges from difficult choral classics from the likes of legendary composers such as Sergei Rachmaninoff, to the highly recognizable “Hallelujah” chorus by Georg Frederick Handel, to contemporary jazz and blues music, to wildly popular pops concerts. If you are in search of an education in music appreciation, then simply attend an Asheville Choral Society concert.
If you desire a more intense education in musical performance, then you’ll have to go behind the scenes. Sitting in on a choral rehearsal is a practice in handling intimidation. Chorus members sight read their music as Dr. Galloway guides the group through the pieces selected for rehearsal that day, listing her notes about dynamics, timing, and blend as they whip through the selections. To the casual listener, the groups first rehearsal of a song they have never sung could easily sound like a performance—they are that good. Around the room, pencils scribble notes furiously into musical scores, and occasionally a chorister will question whether this or that note is a diminished third, or whether the dotted 16th should end on top or under the next beat. This is certainly what one might call professional, but the true testament comes during the Choral Society’s performances.
It’s best to attend an Asheville Choral Society performance with an open mind. Your expectations are bound to be challenged. The power created from the sound of more than 100 people performing with singular precision is, quite simply, staggering. You don’t have to know anything about music to appreciate it, particularly with this group. It transforms compositions that are merely printed on the page into a living thing that, if you close your eyes, will transcend your experience of simply listening. If you allow yourself the freedom of hearing just the music and not your mental chatter, it could take you to a dark and forlorn place of anguish or it could elevate your heart with ringing joy. Close your eyes and let the sound guide your mind; perhaps your mind paints a picture, perhaps it creates a feeling, perhaps it just goes still.
To read more about the organization and to purchase tickets to its concerts, visit ashevillechoralsociety.org.