Thank you, George Case

The Newburyport Choral Society (NCS) is marking a significant milestone as six years under the baton of its beloved Music Director Dr. George Case is coming to a close. In June, Case will turn over the music directorship position to Ryan Lee Turner, who is currently the artistic director of Emmanuel Music in Boston and is on the voice and early music faculty at the Longy School of Music of Bard College in Cambridge.

Dr. Case has led NCS though six highly successful seasons of groundbreaking music which delighted thousands of NCS concert attendees of all ages over the years. “Life takes us in different directions and that means joinings that bring joy and partings that are unlooked for,” says Case, who is relocating to Santa Fe, New Mexico.  

In the Fall of 2014, Dr. Case assumed the mantle of NCS Music Director following the retirement of Dr. Gerald Weale who had led NCS for 27 years.  As a former student of Dr. Weale at Boston University, Dr. Case had a deep respect for his predecessor.  

“Dr. Weale was always joyful in talking about music and that, more than anything, is something I have carried with me. When I became the Newburyport Choral Society’s Music Director, I felt like I stood on the shoulders of a giant,” Case said recently of Weale, who passed away in 2018.

Programming Excellence 

Over the past six years, Dr. Case developed a strong following of his own, drawing increasing numbers of chorus members, sponsors, and audiences with innovative programming that spanned at least six centuries of music and encompassed the full range of human emotions.  

According to NCS President Mary Ann Lachat, “George Case built upon Jerry Weale’s legacy by providing singers and local audiences alike with an exciting repertoire that included contemporary choral music, as well as choral masterpieces not previously performed locally.”  

A significant example of Case’s innovative and highly meaningful programming was the Spring 2017 performance of James Whitbourn’s Annelies: From the Diary of Anne Frank. For chorus members, it laid bare the wide range of emotions evoked from Anne Frank’s powerful words juxtaposed with the sublime musical score.   

“It gave us a chance to process our relationship with those who are different from us,” Case recalled.  “We are not homogeneous, and we are thankful for it.”  

The concert produced an outpouring of support and interest from the community, and a dramatic response from the audience.  

“The common chord [the performance] struck in the hearts of all was a chord of loss and sorrow – a chord that actually unites people, heals differences and builds bridges,” wrote Pastor Ross Varney of Belleville Congregational Church in a Newburyport Daily News column shortly after the performances.  

Another innovation that Case brought to programming was to premiere new works by contemporary composers.  Most notably, Dr. Case created the first “NCS Composer-In-Residence” arrangement, with contemporary composer Andrew Maxfield serving in this role during the 2018/2019 season. Two of Mr. Maxfield’s works were performed as New England premieres: “Armistice Sonnets” at the 2018 Winter Concert and “Celebrating Wendell Berry in Music” at the 2019 Spring Concert.

Rehearsal/Conducting Style

Anyone who sings in a chorus or performs in an orchestra will tell you that every music director has a unique way of leading, teaching and conducting.   

“George was always concerned with making music, not just learning/singing/playing the notes,” says NCS Accompanist Kirsten Helgeland. “It was about the expression, the emotion, and the feeling that goes beyond the notes printed on the page.”

And NCS singers are also quick to praise Dr. Case’s unique style.

Photo courtesy of Jeremiah True Photography

“George always seemed to know what we could achieve in expression and quality of tone,” according to Bass Robert Brodsky.  “He imitated what we had sung, then sang it as he desired, showing us how to do it, and lo, we then sang it that way!”  

“With his infectious warmth and gracious hint of a Southern drawl, his youthful energy and his belief that music starts from the very beginning of rehearsal, George had us immediately in the palm of his hand,” says NCS Alto section leader Penny Lazarus.

“As a lifelong singer, I found working with George Case to be nothing short of a magical music experience,” says NCS Soprano Laurie Curran.  “As a masterful conductor, performing tenor, and music historian, George empowered his chorus members to embrace ever higher levels and visions of each musical work.”

Lasting Contributions to the Newburyport Community 

One of the first community connections Dr. Case established was with Ms. Gina McKeown, who, along with Allison Balentine, co-founded the Greater Newburyport Children’s Chorus in 2015.  GNCC singers became a fixture at all of the NCS Winter Concerts, providing an uplifting and joyful presence of children’s voices at the performances.   

Photo courtesy of Terri Talas

The musical collaboration provided an opportunity for GNCC not only to perform with NCS and the NCS orchestra, but also to learn from working closely with Dr. Case.  And for NCS it offered the vibrance of young singers who delighted audiences when they performed their own choral selections as well as when they added their voices to the larger chorus.  

“When Dr. Case visited our GNCC rehearsals each Fall, the singers were always poised with such excitement and it became one of our highlights,” says Director McKeown. “His joy, playfulness, dedication to the music and educating the young singers were the focus each time. George always found a way to teach and allow himself to be accessible to the young singers, willing to answer questions, laughing with them at moments and gaining their admiration and respect.”

In 2017, Case was honored with the “40 Under 40” award from the Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The honorees were chosen for their tremendous impact in the community where they work.

Case’s most lasting legacy in the Newburyport community is a Horse Chestnut Tree with an inscribed granite bench next to it on the front grounds of the Nock Middle School on Low Street. Both the tree and the granite bench are a lasting gift of the chorus and many audience members who attended the Annelies concert. Dedicated by the students in the spring of 2018, the inscribed bench and the “teaching tree,” honor the memory of Anne Frank and all those who perished in the Holocaust. 

An Ending but Forever Joined Together

“I know that I leave this organization better than when I started, and I know that NCS has a bright future ahead of it,” says Case. “And I know that more great music-making is ahead for this organization under its new Music Director, Ryan Turner.”

NCS President Lachat noted the organization’s deep feelings of appreciation for Dr. Case and all he brought to NCS. “We celebrate George’s skill in bringing joy, humor and inspiration to us as a community of singers while also expecting the best of us. That legacy will always remain with NCS and we are grateful for it.”

And for George Case, the feelings are certainly mutual. 

“I will miss making music with NCS; I will miss the community of Newburyport – I will miss each and every one of you,” says Case.  “I will never be able to adequately express my gratitude for the relationships built here, for the music we have made, and for this chapter in my life.”

Biggest NCS Selfie EVER:   Composer-in-Residence Andrew Maxfield
Joins George Case and a seemingly endless host of NCS singers during
the 2019 Spring Concert “Voices of America”.
George watches on as the chorus warms up during the 2019 Winter Concert,
“Christmas with Brass”.
Photo courtesy of Jeremiah True Photography
2019 Winter Concert, “Christmas with Brass”
Photo courtesy of Jeremiah True Photography

Author: ncsadmin

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