History of the Oxford Civic Chorus
By Jo Ann B. Miller / Updated by Linda Sperath
The first rehearsal/meeting of the Oxford Civic Chorus was Monday evening, August 24, 1998 in the Fellowship Hall of the First Presbyterian Church. The chorus was made up of approximately 40 volunteer community members who had a desire to participate in choral singing. The original organizers were Gabriel C. Statom, a senior music major at the University of Mississippi, and Dr. Martha Hitch of the university’s Music Department faculty. Hitch and Statom were the chorus’ founding Artistic Directors.
The focus of the first year’s concerts was on performing large choral works with orchestra or instrumental ensembles, taking advantage of a then-existing state and regional funding program designed to bring quality classical music to new and wider audiences. The first concert was on November 15, 1998, at which time “Gloria” by Antonio Vivaldi and “Gloria” by John Rutter were presented, accompanied by the Memphis Symphony Orchestra and the University of Mississippi Brass Ensemble.
In December of 1998, the Civic Chorus led a community wide sing-along of “Messiah” by G.F. Handel. On May 1, 1999, “Requiem” by Johannes Brahms was presented, with Statom again directing the chorus and this time the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra from Jackson.
Statom graduated in May 1999 and left Oxford; Dr. Hitch continued leading the group in the fall, but because of serious illness, had to step down. She persuaded Dr. Robert Aubrey, also of the University of Mississippi music faculty, to take on the conducting responsi¬bilities, and he directed the chorus and an orchestra of local musicians for another “Messiah” sing-along in December 1999.
In January 2000, the Civic Chorus began rehearsing an entirely different kind of pro¬gram, “The Best of Broadway,” which was presented in May 2000 in the Fellowship Hall of the First Presbyterian Church. Audience approval and appreciation were such that the chorus was asked to give the same program at the annual Fourth of July celebration in the Grove at Ole Miss. Again, the audience enthusiasm prompted a change of direction in programming by which it was hoped that an ever larger audience would be reached.
Beginning with the chorus’ Fall 2000 rehearsal schedule, preparations were begun for a pre-Thanksgiving concert of beloved American and patriotic songs. This took place Sunday, November 19 at 3:00 p.m., again in the First Presbyterian Fellowship Hall. On May 6, 2001, “From Stage and Screen,” music of theatre and film, was presented.
Fall of 2001 saw a change in direction as the chorus took on learning Rutter’s “Magnificat” which was presented at the Oxford-University United Methodist Church on December 16 with a guest soprano, Nancy Maria Balach, of the university music faculty.
Dr. Aubrey designed another exciting program, “A Grand Night For Singing,” featuring some of America’s favorite tunes, for our spring concert on Sunday, May 12, 2002. Nancy Maria Balach was again our guest soprano.
Because of increasing teaching responsibilities, Dr. Aubrey resigned in August of 2002. Philip Walkley, a senior music major at the university, was chosen as the new director. Our fall concert was given on Saturday, November 16, 2002, at the First Presbyterian Fellowship Hall, and the audience was the largest ever. The program was entitled “Sound and Spirit: A Celebration of American Spirituals.”
From its inception, the chorus has elected officers and a board of directors. Mr. Greg Parks, an attorney in Oxford, volunteered to draw up our official by-laws and standing rules. These were submitted to the IRS and the Oxford Civic Chorus became incorporated with non-profit status on September 25, 2000. Although in our first year the singers also put on fund-raising events to pay for music, musicians, and other expenses, support now comes through members’ dues, individual and business donations, and grants from various sources.
The original officers and board members were: Ed Neilson, president; Wally Guess, vice president; Lisa Lake, secretary; Betty Guess, treasurer; Sherry Styers, publicist; Jo Ann Miller, historian; and Janis Miller, librarian. Community members of the board (non-singers) were Harry Alexander, Ulysses Howell, and Rev. Leroy Wadlington. In August 2001, Ed Neilson asked to be replaced as president, and Wally Guess became president, with Ed serving as vice president. Additional board and officer changes also took place at annual meetings of the corporation in subsequent years.
The Oxford Civic Chorus can best be described through the mission statement written by Dr. Aubrey, adopted by the members, and later expanded:
The primary goals of the Oxford Civic Chorus are to provide artistic experiences to persons in the North Mississippi area, allowing members the opportunity to sing music from a variety of cultures and styles in a community setting; to promote cultural excellence and community pride; and to enrich and enlighten their audiences with each performance. The membership is made up of dedicated musicians who come from many areas of endeavor and from many differing experiences; each possesses a common desire to continue a musical journey throughout life. All are committed to the joy of music and to the expressive power that it brings.
After Philip Walkley graduated and left Oxford, Herbert V.R.P. Jones, a University of Mississippi doctoral student in choral music, was selected to direct the Oxford Civic Chorus in Fall 2003. Herb brought a wealth of knowledge and experience, having worked with choirs all over the country as an educator and clinician. During the next four years under his leadership the Chorus again ventured into new territory by including other musical groups in our programming, through festivals and joint concerts. Herb completed his D.M.A. degree in 2007 and returned to his home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to begin a new phase in his career. Following are summary outlines of concerts presented by the Oxford Civic Chorus under the direction of Herbert Jones.
Fall 2007 found the Civic Chorus again in need of a new director, and fortune smiled. Dr. Jerry Jordan and Mrs. Jean Jordan agreed to co-direct the chorus, and a new era of artistic growth and excellence began. The Jordans led one of the most active and accomplished collegiate choral programs in the U.S. for 21 years at Ole Miss. Under their leadership the Oxford Civic Chorus began auditioning singers for the first time in Fall 2008, and even so the group’s membership more than doubled. Following are summary outlines of concerts presented by the Oxford Civic Chorus under the direction of Jerry and Jean Jordan.
An Ole Miss bachelor’s and master’s music graduate, Brooke Bagley Worthy, was named Oxford Civic Chorus Artistic Director in Fall 2009. Brooke is a Fulbright Scholarship recipient who studied at the Zoltan Kodaly Pedagogical Institute of Music in Kecskemet, Hungary. Her career has included positions as choral music director for the Oxford Middle School, private voice teacher for the Oxford Academy of Fine Arts, children’s choir director for St. Peter’s Episcopal Church of Oxford, and director of the Oxford Children’s Choir. Following are summary outlines of concerts presented by the Oxford Civic Chorus under the direction of Brooke Bagley Worthy.
Current Director of the Oxford Civic Chorus is W. Thomas Ardrey. Thomas Ardrey is the choral director at Oxford High school in Oxford, Mississippi, where he teaches choir, AP Music Theory, and general music. A native of Madison, Alabama, he received a Bachelors of Music Education in vocal music education from Auburn University in 2012, where he studied with Drs. Rosephanye and William Powell, Dr. sarah Lynn Blard and Dr. Jane Keuhne. He is a member of the American Choral Directors Association, American Guild of Organists, National Association for Music Education, percussive Arts Society, American Musicological Society, PI Kappa Lambda, and Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia.