The NCS Organization
The Newburyport Choral Society (NCS) is an educational, 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to excellence in performance and to bringing outstanding choral music to the North Shore of Boston. As one of the oldest choral groups in the United States, NCS has brought choral masterpieces to local audiences for more than 75 years. While formally established in the spring of 1934, NCS continues a choral tradition dating back to the first Newburyport chorus formed in 1848. Known for the exceptional quality of its programs, NCS has made a significant contribution to the cultural life of this area. The quality of NCS concerts springs from a single common bond shared by all of its members — a love of singing and sharing great works of art with community audiences.
In two concert series each year, NCS presents choral works from the Renaissance to the 20th century including major works by Vivaldi, Bach, Handel, Mozart, Brahms, and Verdi as well as more contemporary composers. Concert performances are accompanied by professional orchestras and feature up and coming professional soloists. No two concerts are alike, and they represent musical offerings that span hundreds of years, a multitude of nationalities, and a multitude of musical styles from oratorios to American spirituals. NCS has also commissioned world premiere performances of new choral works.
Each concert season, NCS attracts more than 100 members from nearly forty communities in eastern Massachusetts and southeastern New Hampshire. Singers range in age from high school students to retirees and bring diverse musical backgrounds to their choral experience. NCS is administered totally by volunteers from its membership with a 15 member Board of Directors (BOD) representing a variety of professions. NCS employs two part time professionals, our Music Director, Dr. Gerald Weale, and an Accompanist. NCS orchestra and soloists receive compensation per concert performance.
Newburyport Choral Society – a History
The Newburyport Choral Society traces its roots back to 1934, a year when the Great Depression was still ravaging the United States and political upheaval was occurring in Europe that would lead to World War II. Against that backdrop, organist and choirmaster Clifton Lunt started a chorus in Amesbury, MA, in 1933, composed of girls just out of school and unable to get jobs, with unemployment hovering around 22%. In 1934, Lunt moved from Haverhill, MA, to Newburyport to become organist and choirmaster at St. Paul’s Church, where he served for many years. He also became the light behind the establishment of the newly-named Newburyport Choral Singers (later changed to Society) that year, combining his small Amesbury Choral Society and Newburyport volunteers into a group that was 145 members strong by December 1934. This beginning makes the Newburyport Choral Society one of the oldest choral groups in the country. It also continues a tradition in Newburyport that dates to 1848, when the first community chorus was formed.
The first performance of the newly formed Newburyport Choral Society (NCS) was held in April 1935 at the Newburyport City Hall under Mr. Lunt’s direction, and was enthusiastically received. Following the success of this first concert, the group started rehearsing at Newburyport High School and was supported in its musical efforts by the participation of members and audiences from Newburyport and surrounding communities. In 1937, the Choral Society actively acknowledged the generous community support it had received by raising enough money to fund and support the Newburyport High School Glee Club. By 1940, NCS membership had stabilized to around 100 singers, but the onset of World War II had a significant impact on this level of participation. The April 1942 concert included patriotic music such as The Star Spangled Banner and America the Beautiful. As the chorus and audience lifted their voices in patriotic song, the absence of tenor and bass voices were a reminder that the country was at war.
Under the continued direction of Clifton Lunt, the Choral Society persevered, and soon after World War II, its numbers were back to pre-war levels. Lunt, who also taught public speaking at the Episcopal divinity school in Cambridge until 1960, remained the Choral Society’s music director until 1961, conducting the chorus in a broad range of music from Handel’s Messiah to Richard Rogers The King and I. The musical accompaniment consisted primarily of a piano or organ. After Lunt’s departure, NCS continued to grow under the direction of many talented directors – seven before the current director, Dr. Gerald Weale, who joined NCS in 1986. They included:
NCS Takes a Big Step Forward in Concert Performance
The Choral Society is a community chorus – rooted in Newburyport, but also drawing singers and supporters from surrounding towns, and making a unique contribution to the cultural life of this area. NCS singers range in age from 15 to more than 80 and bring diverse musical backgrounds and talents- from professional to amateur. With 100 plus members, NCS is one of the largest community arts organizations on the North Shore, and one of the largest community choral societies in New England.
The arrival of Dr. Gerald Weale in 1986 marked a quantum leap forward in professionalism and performance quality. When he took the helm of the Choral Society, Dr. Weale was a music professor at Boston University, where he served as Chair of the Department of Music Education and Director of the Boston University Musical Organizations at the College of Fine Arts. He taught choral conducting, choral repertoire, and music theory until retiring in 2005. With this background, it was not surprising that Dr. Weale would expose NCS singers to more challenging choral works and raise the bar for what was expected at both rehearsals and performances. Concert performances have brought a broad and rich repertoire of choral music to local audiences, including the choral masterpieces of Bach, Handel, Haydn, Brahms, Verdi, Mozart and others, as well as more contemporary composers such as Benjamin Britten, Ralph Vaughn Williams and Leonard Bernstein.
Under Dr. Weale, the professional level of the orchestra accompanying NCS concerts was raised. He brought in seasoned professionals from the Boston concert world, as well as some who were just starting their careers. Up and coming soloists were drawn from singers studying voice in Boston as well as other local artists. A number of these soloists have gone on to highly successful vocal careers, including Stephen Salters and Dominique Labelle, both of whom now enjoy international reputations. Dr. Weale also drew audiences from Boston and attracted singers from a wider locale.
Ever the teacher, Dr. Weale’s rigorous Monday night rehearsals at the Rupert A. Nock Middle School are interspersed with lighthearted tidbits about the composers and their particular works, anecdotes from when he sang under the baton of famed choral conductor Robert Shaw, and lessons on voice and music techniques. As another way of enriching NCS members’ musical experience and musicianship, Dr. Weale has also tapped the expertise of some of his colleagues to offer daylong workshops each year on topics ranging from music history to voice lessons.
In the program guide for the Choral Society’s 65th anniversary concert, Betty Gillette, a founding member in 1934 and still singing in 2009 at age 95, said of Dr. Weale: “I have great admiration for Jerry. He is marvelous with the orchestra, bringing us experienced professional musicians. At every single rehearsal you can learn something from him.” A choral singer and music teacher her entire life, Betty says “Jerry is without doubt the best conductor I’ve ever sung under – and I’ve sung under a lot.”
Over the years, not only has NCS performed works by the world’s greatest composers, it has also performed works by notable local artists such as Amesbury native, Edgar Titcomb. The Choral Society has contributed to the creation of new musical masterpieces with its commission of four new choral works by Massachusetts composers, including Marjorie Merryman’s oratorio, Jonah, which premiered in the spring of 1995 as a celebration of the NCS 60th anniversary and symbolized the seafaring history of the North Shore region. Ms. Merryman, a colleague of Dr. Weale’s at BU, also composed a second work, “One Blood” that was commissioned and premiered by the Choral Society in 2000 at The Mansion at Turner Hill in Ipswich, MA.
Throughout the years, NCS has participated in community events in Newburyport, a very active arts community on Boston’s North Shore. During the Christmas season, NCS has performed in downtown Newburyport’s Market Square and offers a “Summer Sing” during the town’s Yankee Homecoming Week festivities. A smaller group of NCS singers have performed at local retirement communities and nursing homes, and each year the Choral Society awards a music scholarship to a local high school student who plans to pursue music studies at a university or conservatory. As part of its community outreach program, NCS encourages high school students to join the chorus. In 1995, NCS was the first organization to receive Newburyport’s “Mayor’s Award for the Arts” in recognition of the Society’s excellence and many years of musical service to Newburyport and the surrounding communities.
While rooted in the local community, the Choral Society has also spread its wings, with Dr. Weale and a small group of chorus members completing three European tours through Eastern Europe (1991), Italy (1994), and France (1996). Whether singing in the choir lofts above the altar in St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice, with the Benedictine monks of Mont-Saint-Michel, or to cheering audiences across France, NCS singers proudly represented the larger Newburyport community.
In 2009 the Choral Society celebrated its 75th anniversary with Dr. Weale still at the podium for 22 years. It was fitting that the choice for the 75th Anniversary Spring Concert was the complete Mass in B Minor by J.S. Bach, whose 200th birthday was celebrated in 2009. The year 2014 marks the Choral Society’s 80th Anniversary and Dr. Weale will be taking his final bow as Music Director, retiring after 27 years. In marking this historic passage the Choral Society will perform two 20th century works with professional orchestra and soloists at its 80thAnniversary Spring Concert – Randall Thompson’s Frostiana, a choral setting of 7 poems by Robert Frost, and Vaughn Williams Dona Nobis Pacem, a sweeping cry for peace in the modern world. In looking toward the future, the Newburyport Choral Society strives to continue its historical commitment to bringing outstanding choral music to the North Shore that enriches singers and audiences alike.