SPRINGFIELD CHORAL SOCIETY HISTORY
For over 50 years, the Springfield Choral Society has been presenting beautiful music to residents of Springfield and the surrounding region. We are proud of our rich history, and look forward to many more years of filling our capital city with singing!
Our choir, originally called the Springfield Oratorio Society, was founded in 1971 by Melody Turner, who directed the ensemble until her move to Oak Park in 1989. Although records from those early years are sparse, we do know some of the repertoire highlights: Elgar’s Dreams of Gerontius, Haydn’s Nelson Mass, Schütz’s St. Matthew Passion, and finally, Brahms’ Triumphlied and Nänie in Melody’s final concert.
In 1989, Jay Peterson took over the direction of the group, adding to his responsibilities as Organ Professor and Music Department Chair at MacMurray College in Jacksonville. Our name changed from Oratorio Society to Choral Society in 1990. Highlights from Jay’s tenure were a Viennese/French evening of Brahms and Poulenc, Hummel’s Mass in B-flat, and the Magnificat’s of Vivaldi and Mendelssohn. The Choral Society also regularly performed at First Night (a New Year’s Eve arts event) and the Liturgical Arts Festival. In 1997, the Choral Society celebrated its 25th anniversary with an evening of English choral music. In 2005, Jay marked the end of his tenure with a performance at the dedication of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum, featuring Daniel Moe’s Cantata of Peace.
Marion van der Loo took the reins of the Choral Society in the fall of 2005, debuting with a program titled "A Rose in Winter.” This concert was an auspicious beginning to a long and prosperous tenure, filled with beautiful music and marked by an expansion of the choir’s size. One particular highlight was “Lilacs in the Dooryard,” a May 2009 concert in the rotunda of the Abraham Lincoln Museum, which featured the premiere of Carol Barnett’s Lilacs in the Dooryard, commissioned by the Choral Society for Lincoln’s 200th birthday. Another standout memory was a complete performance (in Russian!) of Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil. Marion led the Choral Society until 2019, concluding with a program of Haydn favorites, including the Nelson Mass and Te Deum.
In the summer of 2019, the SCS welcomed Illinois College Professor Abby Musgrove to its podium. With her vision and energy, Abby brought a new twist to the traditional annual performance of Handel’s Messiah, tacking on Quincy Jones’ “Hallelujah Chorus” as an encore, to the delight of both singers and audience. A much-anticipated Spring 2020 concert, titled “The Roaring Twenties” and featuring music from the 1620s to the 2020s, fell victim to the onset of the pandemic. Under difficult circumstances, Abby thought outside the box, organizing monthly Zoom discussions with notable choral musicians. The culmination of the 2020-2021 season was a virtual choir video of Elaine Hagenburg’s O Love. This proved to be Abby’s final project with the SCS, as she accepted an invitation to become Director of Choral Activities at Southeastern Oklahoma State University.
The 2021-2022 season was fraught with uncertainty, due to the ongoing pandemic. However, luck was on our side when Ken Lam, then Music Director for the Illinois Symphony Orchestra, agreed to also take up interim leadership of the Choral Society. Ken brought about a rejuvenation of our musical partnership with the ISO, starting with the participation of ISO members in our Messiah performances and continuing with a collaboration on a “Queen and Journey” Pops concert. Accustomed to Bach and Brahms, the SCS dove into Freddie Mercury with gusto! Ken finished his one season at the SCS with a lovely performance John Rutter’s Requiem, before departing to head the newly established branch of the Juilliard School in China.
The summer of 2022 saw the appointment of our current Music Director Jacobsen Woollen, who was newly arrived in Springfield after six years in Vienna. His debut concert paired the traditional Messiah performance with the refreshing addition of Vivaldi’s Gloria. This past Spring, the SCS presented “I Will Rouse the Dawn,” a globetrotting collection of Psalms in English, Latin, German, French, Ukrainian, and Hebrew. The program included A Litany, a work composed by SCS member Dale Rogers and set to a text by former music director Marion van der Loo, and culminated with Bernstein’s alternately sizzling and serene Chichester Psalms. As the Associate Conductor of the Illinois Symphony, Jacobsen has brought the SCS and ISO closer together, partnering for two Holiday Pops concerts. Emerging from the pandemic years, the Choral Society has seen its membership swell in the past year, doubling its size with a new wave of wonderful singers.
Emboldened by a rich past, the SCS looks ahead to an exciting future! Our 2023-24 season, which includes performances of J.S. Bach’s Magnificat and Faure’s Requiem, will be headlined by Florence Price’s cantata Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight, set to the poem by Springfield’s Vachel Lindsay. In presenting this work, which brings an African-American Chicagoan composer together with prominent locals Lincoln and Lindsay, the SCS will be partnering with several local organizations to create an event that explores Springfield’s past and present, inspired by the coming together of these three figures.