A milestone in local music

Augusta Choral Society sets up for 60th season

Emily Remington can remember the days before music was alive in Augusta.


Now 95 years old, she had moved to Augusta in the 1940s because her husband was a professor at Medical College of Georgia.

"There was nothing going on musically. There was not an orchestra or a singing group. I was not capable of doing an orchestra, but I could surely do a singing group," Remington said.

With a dream to bring music to the Augusta area, she founded the modern Augusta Choral Society in 1951. The group has now reached its 60th season. Remington, who served as music director for approximately 25 years, will attend the choral society's opening concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Sacred Heart Cultural Center.

"I can't tell you how proud I am of them. It thrills me greatly to be there," Remington said.

She started the group with two church choirs, Lutheran Church of the Resurrection and St. Paul's Episcopal Church, for a Christmas Messiah performance.

People enjoyed the classical concert and wanted it to continue. Remington made it her mission to bring this type of music to Augusta.

"If I lived in New York, I could experience (classical songs). But if I lived in Augusta, there was no other way to experience unless we did them," she said.

In those days, there were very few female choral directors nationwide. Like many sectors of society, "women hadn't come into their own," Remington said.

Over the years, the Augusta Choral Society has performed with musical greats such as Jessye Norman, Frank Poretta and Evelyn McGarrity. In fact, Norman sang her first solo with the Augusta Choral Society as a teenager.

Remington now resides in Charleston, S.C., where she also founded the Singers' Guild with the Charleston Symphony Orchestra. She was named conductor emerita of the Augusta Choral Society during the group's 50th anniversary season in 2000-2001.

The Augusta Choral Society's concert on Saturday, titled Back to the Future , will include excerpts from 10 to 12 of the most frequently performed works in the history of the group, said Dr. J. Porter Stokes, the conductor and artistic director of the Augusta Symphony Orchestra.

"What we did to determine that, was to go back through programs in the archives of the last 60 years, which would amount to about 250 concerts, and figure out which pieces were done most frequently," said Stokes, who is also the chairman of the Department of Music at Presbyterian College in Clinton, S.C.

Saturday's season-opening concert will feature works from Bach, Handel and Leonard Bernstein. In December, the Augusta Choral Society will perform excerpts from Messiah and other Christmas music. In April, the group will perform Gioachino Antonio Rossini's Stabat Mater . In May, the season will end with a Memorial Day-theme tribute.

The Augusta Choral Society is an auditioned volunteer community chorus with members ranging from high school students to senior citizens. The symphonic chorus almost always performs with an orchestra. Stokes encourages people to come out and give symphonic choral music a chance.

"There's great concern all across the country at the perceived lack of interest in attending classical musical performances these days. Attendance has fallen all across the country," Stokes said. "But hearing an orchestra and a choir perform live in a reverberant room is a vastly different experience than turning on the radio, putting on a CD or watching something on TV. I would encourage people to turn off the TV, get in their car and go to concerts. The effect of being there and experiencing it live is an experience unlike anything else."

Augusta Choral Society

60th Anniversary Season Schedule

- OCT. 23: 7:30 p.m., Sacred Heart Cultural Center; Back To The Future: Repertoire is representative of the major works for chorus and orchestra performed most frequently during the previous 60 years of the organization. The performance will include the Dona Nobis Pacem from the Bach B-minor Mass, Zadok the Priest by George Frideric Handel, Wie lieblich from the Johannes Brahms Ein Deutsches Requiem, He, Watching Over Israel from Mendelssohn's Elijah, and Hallelujah from both the Messiah (Handel) and Mount of Olives (Beethoven).

- DEC. 11: 7:30 p.m., Saint Paul's Church; Messiah And Candlelight: Excerpts from Messiah and other Christmas music with orchestra including John Rutter's Candlelight Carol

- APRIL 16: 7:30 p.m., Sacred Heart Cultural Center; Melody!: Stabat Mater by Gioachino Antonio Rossini combining the Presbyterian College Choir and the Augusta Choral Society with orchestra and soloists.

- MAY 28: 7:30 p.m., Sacred Heart Cultural Center; The Memorial Tribute: A concert honoring and remembering all those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Narration, pictures, and music concerning the celebration and observance of Memorial Day.


- $30 for adults, $25 for seniors, and $15 for students with ID. Purchase tickets through the Augusta Choral Society at (706) 826-4713 or visit www.augustachoralsociety.org.