By Julie Van Fleet
Published August 12, 2021 in The Burg
The year is 1945. World War II is ending and with it, many years of suffering. It was time to sing.
Coincidentally, Thomas Williams, professor of voice and choral music at Knox College and choir director at the Central Congregational Church, was busy creating a new group in Galesburg: the Galesburg Community Chorus. Tom and his wife, Emilie, would serve as the conductor and accompanist for the Chorus for a decade.
The Galesburg Community Chorus debuted in December, 1945 with 125 voices, four soloists, and the Civic Orchestra of 30 pieces. The Galesburg Register Mail printed, “long before the announced starting time, the First Methodist Church was completely filled and standees claimed every vantage point.” At this concert, the Chorus performed Handel’s Messiah which would become its trademark. Since then, selections from the piece are normally performed on an annual basis with past singers and audience members invited to join in.
Through the years, there have been countless chorus members, 629 in the past 25 seasons alone. As a non-auditioned choir focusing on classical music, the Chorus provides an outlet for singers to perform challenging music and to share that music with the community. Chorus members range from gifted life-long musicians to persons who simply love to sing, and age-wise from senior citizens to students. The singers come from a variety of locations and pasts, and all are welcome.
The Chorus has performed in 164 concerts, including six world premieres, as well as performing at Carnegie Hall in 2005. In addition, the Chorus hosts guest concerts annually, which bring a wide variety of musical styles to our area. Finally, area groups, both choral and instrumental, are invited to perform at its concerts.
Throughout this 76-year history, the Chorus has been fortunate to have 13 conductors, with the current conductor, Tim Pahel, at the helm for 21 years. Others include Creston Klingman, Charles Gamble, Laura Lane, and Andrew Bryan. Rehearsal and performance accompanists include Emilie Williams, Mary Runyon Gibbs, Gwyn Snider, Amber Clark, Megan Clewell, Mary Harlan, and Casey Dierlam.
In addition to this musical talent, there have been many other individuals who have served on the board, assisted with performances, and provided monetary donations. Of this large group, two people stand out. They are Charles and Mary Runyon Gibbs. The couple has dedicated decades of leadership and service to the group.
The Chorus enjoys additional support from community groups. Area businesses donate money and items as well as place program ads and sponsor performances. The Galesburg Community Foundation, City of Galesburg, and IL Arts Council all provide financial support through grants. Without all of this support, the Chorus could not continue.
The common thread which has maintained the Chorus throughout its history is community. While the pandemic forced the group to miss its first season in 76 years, the community will continue to help the Chorus survive, and the Chorus, in turn, will continue to provide beautiful entertainment.