New Twists and Old Traditions

Photo Courtesy of Warrenton Chorale

The Warrenton Chorale’s Christmas Concert

For many local residents, the Christmas season does not begin until they have heard the Warrenton Chorale’s annual Christmas concert. For 43 years, this event, performed the first weekend in December every year, has always been an eagerly awaited opportunity for the community and families to come together to experience and share the joy of Christmas.

This year will be no exception. The Chorale’s initial seasonal performance will take place on the evening of November 29, to be followed by an evening performance on November 30 and an afternoon performance on Saturday, December 1 at 3 p.m. Dressed in formal attire, the Chorale members will once again bring color and beautiful music to the expanded sanctuary with an outstanding sound system at Warrenton United Methodist Church.

Jean Hines, Chorale Publicity Director, has promised that this year’s performance will be special for two reasons. For the first time, the Chorale will include a segment during which an elementary school choir will perform three pieces of their own. This year it will be P.B. Smith Elementary Honor Choir. The Chorale hopes that this will mark the beginning of a new tradition in which other county elementary school choirs will participate in the future. Hines says that the Chorale Board of Directors seeks to bring more children into the event, both as performers and members of the audience.

By Kara Thorpe

Also, for the first time ever the Chorale will perform a new piece written by talented composer Ralph Manuel entitled “Come, Let Us Sing to the Lord.” Current Choir Director John Maehofer says he is excited to be presenting this piece of music, as it will be a great way to celebrate what will be the 65th anniversary of community cantatas in Warrenton. Those who attend on November 30 will be the first to hear this new piece of music performed.

The Warrenton Chorale has evolved from annual Christmas cantatas which began in 1953 as “Combined Church Choirs of Warrenton Choral Group” under the direction of Dick March. Under the directorship of Barbara Stinson, who took the reins of this choral group in 1975, a youth chorale was added in 1967 and a handbell choir in 1974. For several “old timers,” Ms. Stinson is remembered for bringing a great deal of fun and joy to the group and for having great patience and a willingness to help choir members to learn. Steve Aiello, a local school choir director, took over for Ms. Stinson in 1993 and led the choir for almost 20 years. In 2013, the Board of Directors hired John Maerhofer to come down from Maryland to lead; sadly, this will be his last year directing the Chorale as he will be moving away.

Mr. Maerhofer modestly describes himself as just “a plain old teacher.” This belies his impressive education resume and extensive experience directing numerous choral groups. He is currently an assistant professor at Hofstra University and has previously taught at the City University of New York. When asked why he chose to come all the way from Maryland to our little rural town, he quickly said, “I love Warrenton and its people.” He indicated he was very impressed with the Chorale’s strong Board of Directors, now led by Carroll Foley, and he was happy to have the opportunity to help bring great choral music to the community. Current members of the Chorale have been impressed with his knowledge of music and have learned so much about the composers and the environment in which the music was composed.

Of the current singers of the group, 19 have a combined commitment of over 500 years. Joan Broughton, a retired teacher from Fauquier High School, has been with the Chorale and its predecessor for 52 years, since she was a very young girl. The Chorale now comprises singers from Fauquier and the five neighboring counties of Culpeper, Rappahannock, Prince William, Stafford, and Fairfax. Over the years, the average number of adult singers has been around 90. The largest number of performers occurred in 1992, when the Chorale was composed of 120 singers, 51 youth, and 13 bell ringers. Many are attracted by the “no audition” policy which allows them to participate without going through that stressful process.

By Kara Thorpe

The word “family” is heard from many of the current members as they describe how they feel about being part of the Warrenton Chorale. One mentioned that attending the first rehearsal for the Christmas Concert in September is like attending a family reunion. Others have noted they have made so many longtime friends, folks with whom they celebrate happy events and provide consolation at times of illness and loss. They usually say they may get so much more from the experience than they give. All seem to cherish the opportunity to bring beautiful music to Fauquier County.

Many fans of the Christmas concert may be surprised to learn that they can also hear the Chorale early in the year when they offer their Spring Concert. If you want to participate in the Chorale for that event, however, you will need to apply before the end of January as rehearsals start early. A sub-group of the Chorale, some 20 individuals called the Chamber Singers, also performs periodically for special charitable fundraisers and for residents of at least one facility for the elderly, Poet’s Walk.

This year’s Christmas concert at Warrenton Methodist Church will include a variety of religious and secular songs to celebrate the season. Tickets are already on sale at many local businesses at $15 for adults and $5 for children. One can also purchase tickets at the door. Hint: Don’t be late. The opening processional is awe-inspiring.

About the author

Gary Carroll is a Fauquier native who has lived here most of his life. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of UVA, he worked as an analyst, supervisor of analysts and instructor of analysts in the U.S. Government for 25 years. Since retirement, he has continued to work as an instructor for the military and several government agencies where he teaches a variety of communication skills, including analytic writing, briefing and public speaking, and supervisor-employee communication. He is married with two daughters.

Pam Kamphuis
About Pam Kamphuis 95 Articles
Pam Kamphuis is an editor and writer for Piedmont Virginian Magazine and Piedmont Lifestyle Magazines.

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