Thirty years ago a group of dedicated amateur singers who wanted to expand their musical horizons formed a new ensemble, the Greenbrier Valley Chorale, dedicated to singing challenging works in a variety of styles.
The group had its genesis in a community choir that presented an annual performance of Handel’s Messiah at The Old Stone Church under the direction of Philip Fife. When Fife was not able to direct one year, Barbara Wygal Lutz stepped in and was pleased to have the opportunity to conduct since her goal was to become a choir director.
She soon got her wish, as some of the members of the community choir formed a new group under the leadership of the organization’s first president, Dorcas Mitchell, with a mission to expand their repertoire and perform challenging arrangements of both sacred and secular music. Lutz came on board as artistic director, a job she continues to enjoy to this day. Teresa Bryant has served as the group’s accompanist for many years.
The first concert presented by the newly formed Greenbrier Valley Chorale was Vivaldi’s Gloria, which was performed at Carnegie Hall accompanied by the organ that was still on the stage at that time. Charlie Goddard, Carnegie Hall’s first executive director, encouraged the group to lead a community Christmas Carol sing, which they did for several years in the late 1980s and early 90s. Carnegie Hall has been the group’s home base for both rehearsals and performances since then except for a few brief periods when the hall was undergoing renovations.
The new choir soon branched out to add a spring program to their season. As their reputation grew, they were invited to perform in other venues including Ames-Claire Hall in Union, the Pocahontas County Opera House in Marlinton, Tamarack in Beckley, the Ritz Theater in Hinton and the Historic Masonic Theater in Clifton Forge, VA. They also performed free concerts at nursing homes until the Covid-19 pandemic intervened.
Covid-19 could not stop the group from singing altogether, however. Thanks to technology, they were able to record a virtual performance of Rene Clausen’s setting of Oh My Luve’s Like a Red, Red Rose, with each singer recording his or her part on a phone or computer. Those recordings were edited together to create a video that was sent to supporters and posted on the chorale’s website.
Some of the highlights in the group’s history include the invitation to join three other West Virginia choirs to premier In Siberiubus Domi – A Home in the Stars by composer Paul Halley, which was commissioned for the grand opening ceremonies of the Clay Center in Charleston in 2003. Another was the spring 2005 concert when the choir was honored to host the world renowned choral director, composer and arranger Alice Parker as guest conductor for a program of her work.
Perhaps the most moving concert for both singers and audience members was the performance of Fauré’s Requiem at Lewisburg United Methodist Church in 2016. The performance was originally planned as a 15th anniversary observance of the 9/11 attacks, but after the catastrophic flood that devastated Greenbrier County in the spring of that year, it also became a tribute to those lost in the flood and the many families affected by the disaster.
The chorale continues to attract members ranging from advanced high school students to senior citizens who enjoy enhancing their skills and performing beautiful arrangements of songs both familiar and new. There have been as many as 72 singers in the group, although now there are typically around 50 or 60 in a concert. Although most singers are from Greenbrier County, some have driven from as far away as Beckley and Clifton Forge to sing, and this season there is even one dedicated soprano who travels from Princeton.
“Over the years,” said Lutz, “it has been my privilege to train and conduct this fun-loving, hard-working group of folks who dedicate Tuesday nights to excellent singing. We are all always proud of the concerts we present and we remain grateful to our audiences for supporting us.”
The celebration of the Greenbrier Valley Chorale’s 30th anniversary will kick off with their annual spring concert on Sunday, May 7, at 3 p.m. at Carnegie Hall. There will be a champagne reception following the concert to thank audience members and sponsors for their long-time support. Tickets are available through the Carnegie Hall Box Office or online at greenbriervalleychorale.org