Singing Brings Comfort and Joy to Chorale Members

By Barbara Elliott,

As the Greenbrier Valley Chorale prepares to conclude its 30th anniversary season with the annual Holiday Concert, some veteran members of the ensemble were asked what singing with the group has brought to their lives. Their answers can best be summarized in two words: comfort and joy.
The 50-member group is made up of volunteer singers from across the Greenbrier Valley. It has been directed since its inception by Barbara Wygal Lutz. Teresa Bryant has been the accompanist for many years. Over the years guest instrumentalists and soloists have added their talents to present memorable programs of the very finest in choral music.

“Singing with the Chorale is the highlight of my week,” says tenor Curtis Pauley. I feel so blessed to be a member of this group.” Soprano Kelly Kemp agrees, commenting that “being in the Chorale has been such a positive experience for me. Singing sparks joy! And I have learned so much about music and singing from Barbara. Invaluable!”

The Chorale provides an opportunity for those who have sung in high school and college choirs to develop their vocal skills and sing challenging music in a variety of styles. “I started singing when I was seven and had a high boy’s soprano voice,” comments Hanno Kirk, who is now a bass. “Then throughout my adult life, I sang with either church or community choirs. When I came to Lewisburg, I joined the Chorale in 1991, the last year that Phil Fife conducted the Messiah performance. The next year Barbara Wygal (now Lutz) took over. I have been singing with them ever since. It gives me joy.”

For soprano Mary Thompson and alto Sue Mohler, the community of singers offered comfort during particularly difficult times in their lives. “I joined the Chorale in the fall of 1994 at the encouragement of Nancy Bulla,” Thompson recalls. “I had lost my husband suddenly in April of that year, and I believe she knew I needed reconnecting to the world. I was welcomed by all and developed close friendships with some of dearest people I have ever known. Sharing the love of music is an extended family – sort of an esprit de corps. It’s the common thread which brings and binds us together. My favorite quote about music has this by Hans Cristian Andersen: ‘Where words fail, music speaks.’ Music is a deep window to our souls – it’s painting without a brush.”

Pictured are members of the Greenbrier Valley Chorale who have sung with the group for 20 or more years. (Seated, L-R) Artistic Director Barbara Lutz, Jim Fleming, Barbara Elliott, Kelly Kemp and Larry Davis. (Standing, L-R) Eric Fritzius, Mary Thompson, Hanno Kirk, Cathy Hyndman, Susan Adkins, Bob Thompson, Sue Mohler, Brenda Patterson, Betsy Conte, accompanist Teresa Bryant and Curtis Pauley. They will be joined by a new generation of singers in the Holiday Concert on Dec. 10.

Mohler was embraced by the group as she faced a medical crisis. “I moved to the Greenbrier Valley in the late 90’s, with no family here; that’s when I joined the Chorale.” she says. About one or two years later, while still in my early 30’s, I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. I spent that fall and winter getting treated with chemo and surgeries; not having family around made it more challenging. And every once on a while, Betsey Degges from the alto section would just randomly appear at my house and check on me to be sure I was doing all right! It doesn’t sound like much, but it meant the world to me, and I treasure the memories today.” The late Betsy Degges was a stalwart of the group for many years, continuing to sing into her 80s.

Tenor Larry Davis has not only enjoyed singing, but also sharing the experience with professional musicians whose presence challenges the singers to be at the top of their game. As an example, he notes that Sarah Hann’s percussion accompaniment has hit the spot several times. “She once launched into a great solo in order to save the Chorale when we lost our place for a while during the performance of an African song we were doing without the aid of printed music.” he laughs.

Hann and other guest instrumentalists will perform with the group in the Dec.10 concert, which will feature superb arrangements of both sacred and secular music of the season. The concert will take place on Sunday, Dec. 10, at 3 p.m. at Carnegie Hall in Lewisburg. Tickets are available through the Carnegie Hall box office or online at The holiday concerts often sell out, so patrons are advised to purchase tickets in advance.

Tenor Bob Thompson sums up the feelings of many singers and audience members as he looks forward to the concert. “The Greenbrier Valley Chorale has been a musical anchor in my life for the past nearly 30 years.” He says. “I can’t imagine a Christmas season without it. And Barbara, our director, and Teresa, our pianist, are both unsung heroes of our Greenbrier community. I’m looking forward to the next 30!”


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