Weaverville Music Study Club Celebrates 70-Year Tradition of the “Messiah”
On December 2, 2018, a Community Chorus made up of area individuals and members of choirs, as well as members of the UNC-A University Chorale came together to present the Christmas portion of Handel’s Messiah (George Frederick Handel 1685-1759) at 4:00 PM at First Baptist Church in Weaverville. This program was sponsored by the Weaverville Music Study Club and area businesses.
The chorus was directed by Dr. Robert G. Boer and the organist was Linda Jones. The soloists were Hannah B. Pennell-Soprano, Jane McCoy-Alto, Nicholas Cameron-Tenor, and Roberto Flores-Bass. This year marked the 70th year anniversary of the first performance which was held on December 15, 1948. The performance was dedicated in memory of Rev. Wendell Brittain who sang in the first performance in 1948 and since that time had participated in 35 of the 47 times the “Messiah” has been performed in Weaverville, his last being in 2016. He recently passed away on November 16, 2018.
The Weaverville Music Study Club was formed in 1941 with the purpose of promoting a love and appreciation of good music in the town. It was in the Fall of 1948 that the then president, Mrs. Grover Brown, had the idea of a group performing the “Messiah”. She turned to Mrs. Irene Holcombe Clark, a graduate of Berea College with a degree in music who was teaching music at the Weaverville High School. Mrs. Clark was familiar with the “Messiah” music from her college days and accepted the challenge to teach the music to her students.
Mr. R. A. Tomberlin was Superintendent of Buncombe County Schools and he allowed two of the teachers to leave their classroom responsibilities to assist Mrs. Clark with her students. They were Mrs. Grover Brown, pianist and Mr. Gordon Johnson who sang with the tenors. Later rehearsals included community members from choirs in the Weaverville area bringing the total number to 123 participants for the first performance which was held at the Weaverville Methodist Church. Thus, began a great tradition that continues now 70 years later.
Mrs. Clark served as director from 1948 until 1994. During these years the “Messiah” was performed yearly, alternating the Christmas portion with the Easter portion the following year. Her enthusiasm for the music and her dedication to her students and community were unmatched. A Citizen-Times article dated December 3, 1982 and written by the well-known Bob Terrell tells about a “One-Armed Choir Director.” On the day of the performance that year Mrs. Clark had fallen after the morning worship service at the Methodist Church and had fractured her arm. That evening with her arm in a cast she directed the “Messiah” without missing a beat.