Handel’s Messiah: A Cary Tradition for 41 Years
Story by Regina Kaiser. Above, Susan Easter and her father Bill Easter, one of the founding members of the Cary Community Choir.
Cary, NC – The Cary Community Choir, Cary’s longest-running cultural organization, will perform its 42nd annual Handel’s Messiah on Sunday, December 2, 2012 at Westwood Baptist Church, Cary, NC at 7:30pm.
A Family Tradition
Bill Easter is one of the founding members of Cary Community Choir. He has sung in all of the performances since the choir’s inception in 1971. This year will be his 42nd performance. His daughter Susan sings along with her father. They have sung together in the choir for 14 years. Bill and Susan love being in the choir together. Bill is particularly pleased that Susan has chosen to be a part of this great tradition.
“I was probably at every performance as a child, Susan Easter said. “I was almost 7 the year of the first performance in 1971. It became part of our family’s Christmas tradition. It wasn’t really Christmas until we’d been to the Messiah.”
“I’m so proud of my dad that he was part of the inspiration for this wonderful Cary tradition and has supported and nurtured the production every year since,” she continued. “This year will be his 42nd time singing in the Cary Community Choir, the only singer to sing every single year!”
Life-Long Love of Music
Bill Easter grew up in Winston-Salem, took piano lessons as a youth and developed a deep love of church music, particularly the organ and choir. He began singing with the Youth Choir in his home church. Eventually Bill joined the adult choir as a tenor. He continued singing in choirs throughout his life, missing only two years while serving overseas in the Air Force and four years while he attended Carnegie Institute of Technology, now Carnegie-Mellon University.
In 1965, Bill joined White Plains Methodist Church. He became Choir Director there and continued for 13 years. He served on the Planning Committees for the Cary Community Choir and served as president during the time that the choir underwent incorporation.
Susan began her love for music with piano lessons as a youth and flute lessons while in the Cary High School Band. She also sang in the White Plains Youth Choir and in the choir at Trinity United Methodist Church in Richmond, VA. She began singing with the Community Choir in 1998. She is on the 2012 Board of Directors.
Founded in 1971- With Cary’s Centennial
The Cary Community Choir traces its origin to Cary’s Centennial Celebration in 1971, for which citizens of the town were encouraged to dress in centennial costumes.
Cary’s Centennial Sunday took place in the summer with a worship service that was held at the football stadium of Cary High School. Local church choirs combined to provide music. The three principal choir directors involved were Stuart Thompson, minister of music and youth at First Baptist Church, Mary Raver, choir director at Cary Methodist Church (now First UMC), and Bill Easter, choir director at White Plains Methodist Church. Thompson directed the combined choir.
Three Churches Unite
After the service, the three directors discussed the possibility of getting the choirs back together to perform a more challenging piece of music. After some deliberation, Handel’s Messiah was chosen. Rehearsals began in October, meeting every Tuesday evening until the work was performed on the first Sunday in December. Thompson conducted the rehearsals, but Charles Gatwood, director of music for the Baptist State Convention, was eventually brought in to conduct the performance. Because the first presentation was so well received, the presentations continued annually under Gatwood’s direction.
The founding choir numbered around 50. For many years, only organ accompaniment was used and soloists were recruited by audition. Offerings taken at the performances were given to charitable agencies. Eventually, the group started applying the offerings to support the performances, and professional singers were hired for solo voices. The first string instruments were used one year when the host church’s organ needed reinforcement. The professional instrumental ensemble became standard after David Mellnik assumed the position of director and grants from supporting organizations became available to fund the additional costs.
Choir Has Grown With Community
For years, the performances were held at First Baptist Church. About 1000 people attended the first performance. As new sanctuaries were built at other churches, the performances began to cycle through the available venues. The ecumenical nature of the endeavor was prized, with the choir members wearing the robes of their home churches to proclaim that unity through diversity. As the choir grew, more and more singers not affiliated with church choirs began to participate. Currently the number of singers in the Choir typically is approximately 100, and audience attendance is between 700 and 800.
Bill Easter reflects, “If one could hear a recording of those early performances, he would probably wrinkle up his nose at the quality of the music. But as the growth of the Triangle area brought in many cultured and well educated people, the capabilities of the Choir grew along with its numbers. The performances are much more professional in quality now, but with some loss in intimacy compared with the early years.”
“Participating in the Cary Community Choir has been a thrilling experience. In the early years, it never ceased to raise goose bumps because of the solemn joy of the performance,” says Bill.
Only Three Rehearsals
“This undertaking is a minor miracle,” said Bill Easter. “Most people would say it couldn’t be done. The choir now rehearses only three times. The performance is typically on the first Sunday in December. Each year, nearly half of the choir members are new members. How do they do it?”
Join the Cary Community Choir for this wonderful holiday tradition on Sunday, December 2, 2012 at Westwood Baptist Church, 200 Westhigh Street, Cary, NC at 7:30pm.
Cary Community Choir
42nd Annual Handel’s Messiah Performance
Sunday, December 2, 2012, 7:30pm
Westwood Baptist Church, 200 Westhigh Street, Cary, NC 27513
There is no charge for admission but donations are welcomed and encouraged. Proceeds from the event will benefit The Carying Place, a community-based, non- profit agency serving Wake County families in need.
Congratulations. The Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra in St. John’s Newfoundland Canada and it’s Philharmonic Choir has been performing Messiah for 20 years. Maybe we’ll catch you someday.
20 years is a proud record, Lana. Happy holidays to everyone in the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra from all of us in Cary, NC.
I often wondered what became of Bill Easter from our old days at CIT. I didn’t know he was a singer or I would have tried to get him to sing in some of the campus choirs. It is wonderful that you are singing now and encouraging others!
There was one slight inaccuracy in the story. During my years at CIT I sang with the choir of First Methodist Church. After leaving CIT, I joined the EE faculty at North Carolina State and retired after 31 years. My teaching was primarily in electronic circuits, and I held several administrative positions culminating with associate department head. Thanks for writing.