This year marks the 15th anniversary of North East Texas Choral Society. On Saturday and Sunday, they will be in performance with their production of “A Dickens Christmas” at Hopkins County Regional Civic Center.
In anticipation of the show, we asked several singers to share their NETCS experiences – in their own voices.
Mike Gilmer, a charter member, has served on the board of directors for three years and is currently president. Chuck Jones has been a member for 14 1/2 years, was on the board for a dozen years and served as president from 2010 to July of this year. Brooke Newsome Howard has been singing with NETCS since 2004, becoming a member-at-large on the board of directors in 2008. This fall marks Adrienne Lilley’s first time with the organization.
News-Telegram: Why did you join NETCS?
Mike Gilmer: Seems like I have always been in church choirs. I was in First United Methodist Choir when the announcement was made that NETCS was forming. It sounded like fun and a worthwhile project and adventure.
Chuck Jones: Marvelous choral music. I'd been in choirs most of my life until moving here. Then, nothing until I heard about choral society.
Brooke Newsome Howard: I love to sing. I have grown up singing with my family on both sides, at church and at school. Music is a part of who I am. So, when I heard that there was a group of people who met every Monday night to sing, then I knew I wanted to be a part of it. When I then found out that Carol Allen, who had also been my varsity choir director at SSHS, was the director, then I was positive that NETCS was something I wanted to do.
Adrienne Lilley: My first time to see NETCS was the 10th anniversary concert. Every time I watched the singers, I thought about how much fun they are having. My mom joined a few years ago, and she and Carol have been inviting – and urging – me to join ever since. I finally decided to take the time to do something for myself. Each week, I get to go to choir practice and join my voice with 100 other voices and create something bigger than any of us can create on our own. It is truly a blessing!
N-T: What's it like to be on stage looking out at a rapt audience, lifting your voice with 100 others?
MG: It is great! It seems that the audience really enjoys and appreciates the effort we make. There is such a sense of comaradrie and fellowship within this group that it seems like a single unit performing rather than 100 individuals.
CJ: From where I stand, we can't see the audience. From the stage, there's just this big black hole in front of us. Of course, occassionally we can see folks out there. We've done a couple of concerts at sites other than the Civic Center, where we were in eyeball reach of the audience. Wow. Those were great. That, plus the incredible sound box that is First Methodist make our programs there extra enjoyable for the singers.
BHN: First of all, I barely even notice the audience. When I am standing there with those 100 plus voices, in full concert regalia, and I hear the first strains of the music from the instruments begin, I feel a wave of exhilaration.
Then, a few seconds later, when our voices come together in this huge, yet beautiful, full sound, it is almost as though somehow I was lucky enough to be a part of a choir in heaven.
It is truly a spiritual experience. Even though we sing all types of music, it always feels like we are lifting our voices to the Lord.
N-T: Why do you think NETCS has enjoyed such a long, successful run?
MG: Carol is an excellent director. She gets more performance out of us everyday folks than would seem possible. The volunteers that serve on the board of directors work very hard, mainly behind the scenes, to manage the business of this organization, planning, organizing, paying the bills, etc. But the main reason this works is that NETCS belongs to all of us, and that sense of pride and ownership comes through in performances and all the work that leads up to them.
CJ: 1. Carol Allen. 2. Carol Allen. 3. Carol Allen.
I'd like to flatter myself with being somewhat creative, but she's the creative one. But beyond that the graceful, maternal, yet professional way that she deals with all the singers, she is a marvel to behold. Everyone in the choir has the notion in the backs of their minds that they are really her favorite.
BNH: NETCS is a group like no other. It is not a mere choir. It is a family. In our rehearsals, we share with each other, cry with each other, rejoice with each other.
My son, Peyton, who is now 15, has grown up among the people of Choral Society since he was 7 years old. He has been helping to turn pages for Deanna Spraggins since 6th grade.
Mrs. Spraggins starting teaching him piano when he was in 2nd grade, so it was a perfect match for him to help her turn pages while using the skills she taught him.
We have both been blessed by the people in our group. They have helped raise him.
Another reason our group has been successful is Carol Allen, our director. She always says that we are the heart and soul of choral society, but truly, she is. She pulls notes and dynamics out of us that we think are impossible. But more importantly, she is a spiritual leader. She never fails to teach and guide us, in a way that I know makes the Lord smile. We are truly blessed.
AL: NETCS endures because of the people who are in it, and the passion they have for sharing music with our community.
There is nothing like the sound of 100 voices joining together in song, and it is something we cannot hear anywhere else.
As a singer, I have always enjoyed and appreciated the music choral society brings to the community. But as a parent, I have also enjoyed watching my children as they are touched by different songs in the concerts. My oldest daughter attended the first concert with me. She was three at the time and hasn't missed one since.
NETCS speaks to every generation and every walk of life.
N-T: What are your top three favorite moments as a NETCS member?
MG: There are too many to remember.
CJ: Gary Spraggins’ pre-concert meal. Peggy Simmons’ pre-concert slide show. Actually, I look forward to seeing my "family" every Monday night for rehearsal. The concerts are an afterthought. My singular goal during my years as president was to magnify the incredible bond between the singers. I think you can hear it and it shows in our music.
BNH: It is so hard to narrow these moments to three, especially over a course of eight years.
First: Last spring, in our concert, Carol got a little extra excited. Somehow, her baton went flying during one of our more vigorous songs. She started to look for it, but it was nowhere to be found. Finally, Peyton, who was at the piano with Deanna Spraggins, started searching through the forest of ferns that were positioned in front of Carol's platform. After a few minutes of Peyton sprawled on the ground in front of the entire audience digging through plants, he stood up and held the baton in the air. The audience burst into laughter, Carol stopped the concert and everyone cheered. That is just one of many of the comedic moments that are experienced during one of our concerts. They are rarely planned, but always happen.
Second: In Spring of 2011, Carol presented us with a new challenge, "The Best of Glee," Season 1.
When we started working on that piece of music, most of us thought it would never happen. At the beginning, it sounded and felt like nails on a chalkboard. It was unlike any piece of music we had ever tackled before.
We worked and worked on it, note by note for weeks on end. But when we finally hit the stage that May, our version of “Glee” rocked the house!
I was privileged to be one of several that got to sing a solo in the medley. After each performance, with those 100 voices behind us, with the accompianists who couldn't even stay seated to play it, with the audience unable to hold back their applause, it felt as though we had won a Super Bowl or an Olympic medal. Truly, I will never forget it.
Third: Though we haven't done one in a while, some of my favorite times in NETCS were the cabarets we used to do. Getting to see many of members’ other types of talents is highly entertaining. I have seen Jason Frazier as a Spartan cheerleader, Gary Spraggins' shadow as a voluptuous lady and much, much more.
N-T: What are your favorite moments in the upcoming Christmas show?
MG: Too many excellent songs to pick.
CJ: I don't know. We haven't had it yet.
BNH: We never know what a show will be like until we actually perform it, because most of the very best moments are unplanned bits of comedy or poignancy. But donning our Victorian regalia and singing so many Old English carols and the like is something to look forward to.
This concert we are singing “Hallelujah” from Mount of Olives. This song thrills me to my very core! When Ken first starts playing, I start to feel sparks of anticipation. Then, the basses start in with their rolling notes, and next the tenors, altos and sopranos layer all of the separate tones one at a time so that the sound builds and builds. Then, it suddenly goes away to build little by little again. My one little voice never seems like enough to praise God the way we should. But when choral society as a whole comes together in one voice singing praises that way, then I know He is pleased.
AL: There are a lot of powerful songs and touching moments in the concert this year, but my favorite song is "Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day." I think the audience will enjoy the light spirit of the music, and I have enjoyed the challenge of learning it! I also love the picture it paints of Jesus inviting us, his true love, to a dance.
Performances of “A Dickens Christmas” will be Saturday, Dec. 1 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 2 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door. They are available at all local banks, from NETCS singers and at the website, www.netchoral.org.
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