Reaching a Higher Note
North East Texas Choral Society loves to sing, but wants to reach even higher

Patti Sells | News-Telegram Feature Editor

July 31, 2004 -- It was April of 1998 when Carol Allen's dream of a community chorus for Sulphur Springs pushed its way to the forefront of her mind and she announced to the community that there would be four days of auditions for area singers wishing to be a part of a new group.

One week later, having heard 117 singers and accepting 100 of them, the group was officially under way, and she became the founding director of the North East Texas Choral Society.

"Music enriches our lives so much," explained Allen, whose vocal background includes singing with many great choirs, teaching voice, being music director for First United Methodist Church, recording an album of sacred songs and even pursuing a solo career as a Christian vocal artist. "We all sing. We all may not sing in a chorus, but we all sing. It's one of the ways that we express ourselves artistically as human beings."

Allen said that with little more than a love for singing and a belief that "all things are possible with God," NETCS "was off and running -- er -- singing."

A mere six weeks later the group made its debut at the Hopkins County Regional Civic Center, singing for then-Gov. George W. Bush, who was in town announcing that the Hopkins County Courthouse would be part of the Texas State Restoration Project.

"I was just amazed and inspired that we were able to put it all together," said Allen. "With only six rehearsals behind us and a commitment from our singers and accompaniment, we put together 'Texas Our Texas' and an a Capella setting of the 'National Anthem'."

According to Allen, the choral society is made up of singers from all walks of life.

"We have the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker -- literally," she explained. "Though rehearsals are held at First United Methodist Church, I would venture to say that we have 25 different churches and all denominations represented, drawing members from four or five neighboring counties."

It was December of 1998 when NETCS presented the community with its first concert. According to Allen, both Christmas and spring concerts have since become traditions and "must-go events."

"As I recall that first Christmas concert, I remember the people were spellbound hearing the wonders of the holiday season performed by their friends and neighbors who had dedicated themselves to months of demanding and exacting practice," said Allen. "There is something very personal about watching people you know and love perform. These are people you work with, go to church with and do business with."

NETCS is a highly successful group, according to Allen, not only because of its talented individuals, but also because the group is generous with its time, loyalty, hard work, and an ongoing commitment to growth and improvement.

"We all just love to sing," said John Kramer, a charter member along with his wife, Susy. "The choral society gives us the opportunity to express ourselves with a really super group. We enjoy it because it allows us to take our own talents to a level higher than we've ever had before."

"Music expresses what each of us feels in our heart," Susy Kramer added.

According to Allen, 28.5 million people sing in choruses in the United States of America.

"That's nearly 10 percent of the population," she explained. "I think what sets the choral arts apart and makes it so universally appealing is that we use language, in addition to music, in order to communicate a message. We communicate it with our faces, with the sounds that we produce. We sing with our whole body, soul and spirit."

For almost seven years, NETCS has continued with its commitment to bring the community an ever-expanding world of diverse sights and sounds. They perform classical, ethnic and traditional selections.

Part of their mission is to provide greater musical excellence.

"Choir members reach deeply within themselves to be genuine purveyors of quality music for the community," Allen said.

As ambassadors for the arts, with their passion for song, endless enthusiasm for performance, inspired direction and masterful accompaniment, members of the Choral Society hope to become an even stronger presence and influence throughout the community and in schools by reaching into the lives of children, families, friends and neighbors through music and sound.

"We are passionate about this," Allen said. "The family of man is so enriched when they include the arts in their lives. Without the arts -- whether visual, choral, dance or symphonic -- we become greatly diminished."

Each year the Choral Society performs two concerts, one the first week in May, the other the first week of December. These concerts are primarily funded through ticket sales and from an annual fund raiser known throughout the community simply as "Cabaret," which is an evening of dinner, singing, dancing, and comic acts.

"We have a lot of fun," said charter member and first president of NETCS Gary Spraggins, who went on to say that the group is anything but stuffy. "We do the classics, such as Brahms, Beethoven and Dvorak, but we are also not above dressing up singers, who may be your local doctor, in a grass skirt and a coconut brassier," he added laughing.

In the past, according to Allen, Cabaret has always been a very formal occasion. However, this year's event has a bit of a Texas twist, and folks are asked to get out their best western attire, shine up their silver belt buckles and polish their boots for a "one night only" Cowboy Cabaret.

"There's going to be a gunfight, guest appearances and other surprises," Allen said with a wink. "Cabaret is always a lot of fun, a great meal, and it's always a sellout."

In spite of Cabaret"s success, Allen said revenue from ticket sales covers only about one-third of the cost of the society"s annual concert season. Some of the costs include printing of posters, tickets, programs, advertising, lights and sound, accompaniment, music, venue, staging and decorations.

"There are tremendous costs involved," said Allen. "For this reason it is our goal to have the costs of the concerts underwritten. We believe that NETCS is an important cultural resource. The arts are always expensive. But I believe as we broaden our vision for the future, those who help support us will also see it as an investment in our community."

According to Allen, NETCS wants to do more for the community, and having the concerts underwritten will allow them to be less dependent on ticket sales.

"It is our desire to provide groups with free tickets," Allen said. "Groups like nursing home residents, or students and their families who might not otherwise ever get to go. It would enable us to do fundraising concerts with proceeds going to help various charities and organizations. We also want to start a children's chorus. There are so many things we still hope to do, and I believe the best is yet to come."

The NETCS is a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization, meaning donations to the group are tax deductible.

Auditions for the upcoming concert season will take place Saturday, Aug. 14, in the choir suite at FUMC from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. No prepared music is necessary.

For more information regarding support or auditions go to www.netchoral.org or call Carol Allen at 903-885-2185, ext. 107.

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