LAKE WYLIE — York County is proving a hotbed for interest in community choirs. Both in joining and leading them.
Kevin Gray, music director for River Hills Community Church since 2003, has taken over as conductor of the nonprofit Charlotte Chorale. His first concert was in June. His first rehearsal on a new semester was Sept. 10.
“We were able to do a variety of things,” said Gray, who also writes music for the adult choir ranging from 20 to 30 voices. “With this group, pretty much anything you want to do you can do.”
Formerly the Philharmonic Chorus performing with Charlotte’s Philharmonic Orchestra, Charlotte Chorale branched off in 2003 and is celebrating its 10th season. Gray, who taught in the Clover School District prior to church work, even has two former students among his singers.
“To have had them as seventh- and eighth-graders and then to see them walk in as adults and audition, that was pretty special,” Gray said.
Elsewhere, choirs are starting with students even younger. Longtime Lake Wylie resident Jessica Salas recently teamed up with former Fort Mill High School choral instructor Michael Dove to create the Classical American Youth Choir. About 60 singers began practice last week in Steele Creek. A preview concert is planned next month.
Salas is the group’s executive director. She founded Carolina Dance Academy, which now has locations in Steele Creek and Clover. After 11 years, she sold the business but still wanted to keep active in the arts. One of four daughters performed in a Charlotte choir last year, which along with Dove’s availability upon retiring from Fort Mill High, prompted the idea.
“To get there during rush hour, it was just a nightmare,” Salas said. “We just really need something like this in our area.”
That same thought of needing something local for young singers spurred Crowders Creek Elementary School music teacher Angie Sulls to start the Clover Choristers. Sulls has about 50 singers signed on and is working toward concerts and musical theater performances.
Sulls is focusing exclusively on young singers feeding into already established programs in the Clover area.
“I’m looking to prepare elementary school students to be successful in our middle and high school programs here,” she said. “I know, specifically, what that’s going to take.”
Each group offers something different. Gray’s group is for adults. Classical American Youth Choir has four choirs ranging from preschool to high school, while Clover Choristers has three choirs for first through fifth grade. Gray’s group keeps auditions open, Classical American is wrapping its up in October and Clover Choristers won’t audition again until May, though there’s a waiting list.
Group leaders vary in their guesses as to why there’s so much interest in community choirs now, from people wanting to stay closer to home to the popularity of singing shows on television. All say they’re most interested in making great music and offering that opportunity to as many as possible.
“It kind of just brings everybody together,” Sulls said.