In 1976, Lucille Horton, a math teacher at Monticello High School, heard a rumor that the new music teacher, Mr. Martin (Marty) Banner was interested in starting a community chorus. She approached him one morning and said, “I’m excited about this chorus you’d like to start.” He replied, “Great, and I hear you’re an alto.” “That too, but I would like to be the accompanist if you need one.” He accepted her offer, and hence The Sullivan County Community Chorus began.
They planned two concerts a year, the Spring one with orchestra. They purchased music and paid expenses with dues of $5 per member, donations, and ads purchased for the concert programs.
In 1978, the chorus incorporated as a non-profit organization so that donations would be tax-exempt and received their first Decentralization grant, administered by the Delaware Valley Arts Alliance. The Sullivan County Community College hired Marty as an adjunct professor, and gave them a place to rehearse. Up until this time, they had rehearsed at Monticello High School.
Marty spent some time in Europe, discovering many forgotten choral works by Baroque composers, leaving little time to devote to the chorus, and he resigned as conductor after more than 10 years. In 1988, David Tcimpidis became the conductor. The group rehearsed at the Liberty United Methodist Church and gave two concerts each year at local churches and at the college.
In 1990, William Halbert served as conductor for one semester. He was organist-choir director at the Monticello Presbyterian Church. When he moved from the area, Jean Webster, the president of the chorus who resided in Grahamsville, quickly recruited Cheryl Koch, music teacher at Tri-Valley, to take over leadership of the group. Rehearsals returned to the college, and two years of outstanding performances followed. Numbers grew to 45, and dues increased to $10 a semester. Cheryl moved west, again leaving the chorus without a conductor.
Michael Williams, a music teacher at Liberty High School, agreed to conduct in 1993. In May of 1995, the concert was dedicated in loving memory of Betty Walter, who tragically died very young. For years, her glorious soprano voice was a highlight at our concerts. Mike’s workload and family commitments had become heavy, and he could not continue directing. The chorus auditioned five candidates and only one met the criteria. After accepting the position, the recipient withdrew at the last minute, leaving the chorus without a conductor for our Spring 1996 concert. The group was stuck and did not know what to do. Lucille Horton, accompanist and silent supporter for all these years, volunteered to fill in.
After that semester, Lucille knew that something had to be done. Lucille heard that Chuck Matz had retired and relocated to Cragsmoor. Back in the fifties, Chuck had taught music at Tri-Valley in Grahamsville while Lucille was teaching math. They were friends at the time. Lucille was impressed by his energy and vivacity, and by the high quality of music which his choir was inspired to sing. What a great day it was when Dr. Chuck Matz agreed to become conductor of the Sullivan County Community Chorus! For 9 years, the chorus improved under his direction.
When Chuck decided to “fully retire” and spend more time traveling the country to visit his family, the chorus looked within to find a replacement. In the spring of 2005, Kevin Giroux, choral director at Tri-Valley agreed to conduct the ensemble after having been a member while Chuck was directing. Kevin’s school life became too busy for him to continue as director, and he was only with us for one semester.
After Kevin’s departure, David Trombley, choral director at Ellenville High School agreed to take over the reins. David was well known in the Monticello community as an outstanding solo artist, private studio teacher, and former music teacher at the Monticello Middle School. He was the right man for the job! For five years David was the director, and the chorus performed marvelously!
Following David’s tenure, a phone call from Lou Setren, a tenor in the chorus, and the current president, tugged at the heart (and guilt) strings of Kevin Giroux. Kevin agreed to come back in the Winter of 2010. In the Spring of 2011, Kevin brought in Adam Barley from Hankins as co-conductor. Concert attendance had been getting so large, there was no longer room for everyone at the First Church of Monticello Presbyterian. The decision was made to move the concerts to Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Woodbourne, where parking and performance space were of the highest degree! We also acquired choral risers from the Neversink Ag Society that Kevin had previously used at Tri-Valley before new ones were purchased. Adam was only able to serve as a conductor for one semester, but joined the following season as a chorus member.
In the Fall of 2011, everyone associated with the chorus was thrilled when Harvey and Eileen Krieger of Woodridge donated a grand piano to the chorus for use at concerts. This wonderful gift has helped the chorus continue to make lovely music to share with Sullivan County. At the same time, Keira Weyant joined our ranks as co-accompanist. In the Spring of 2012, Lucille made the tough decision to “retire” from performing with us due to health issues, but she continued as “Advisor Emerita” to the Board of the Chorus. We lovingly named our grand piano “Lucille” in her honor.
In the Winter of 2013, Kevin informally began a select ensemble comprised of members of the chorus at large. The Sullivan Chamber Singers was formally introduced in the Spring of 2015 as an auditioned subset of the Community Chorus.
In the Spring of 2019, after years of practice, practice, practice (as the saying goes), we were invited to perform at Carnegie Hall! We joined other ensembles to perform one of our favorite pieces, Dan Forrest's "Requiem for the Living". We look forward to many returns to NYC to spread the love of music beyond the borders of Sullivan County!
The chorus has come a long way since 1976. There is always room for more people who want to learn and to share their love of music with others. As the chorus celebrates their 45th season (2021-2022), members wish to acknowledge their biggest supporters: YOU! Thank you!