The Oxford Civic Chorus will celebrate 20 years in 2018

Published 2:40 pm Sunday, July 23, 2017

For nearly two decades, the Oxford Civic Chorus has been a fixture of the community.

With the upcoming season (its 19th) starting next month, the chorus, made up of people of all ages, backgrounds and hometowns, is looking for new members to join its ranks.

Eileen Saunders, OCC’s Interim President, has been on the board since 2013. While she doesn’t sing with the group, she does plenty of work behind the scenes.

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“We’re not a static group,” Saunders said. “Each artistic director has had a different vision for the kind of music they wanted to have the group sing.”

And the Civic Chorus has had its share of influential artistic directors over the years.

The first was a pair who founded the group on Aug. 24, 1998: Gabriel C. Statom, a senior music major at Ole Miss, and Dr. Martha Hitch from the university’s music department faculty. Since then, the music selections from various directors have ranged from classical pieces to Broadway and film tunes.

Currently, Thomas Ardrey, who is also the choral director at Oxford High School, helms the choir.

The OCC’s performance schedules are broken into two “semesters” with members making a commitment for a few months of rehearsal at a time. Traditionally, there is always a show in December and May.

Saunders said the commitment isn’t too demanding as the group meets once a week.

“We have a wide variety of people from all over doing different professional jobs,” Saunders said. “As well as students, homemakers or retirees.”

Stephanie Young, the Interim Vice President, added that she remembers her 17-year-old son joining the choir and singing next to people well past 80 years old.

“My son learned so much by being next to people who had been singing for a long time,” she recalled. “I appreciate what it’s given my boys who have both sung with it.”

For Young, the OCC is a place where she feels “involved in the community.”

“What I would love to see the choir become is a reflection of the community coming together,” she said. “I think music is such a powerful metaphor, of harmony and of differences that make beauty. I would love the choir to be that in Oxford.”

Saunders became involved with the group after watching her son sing with them.

“I saw the organization as something vibrant that I wanted to be a part of and so I joined the board,” Saunders said. “I’m the only board member that doesn’t sing, which is a little different. We’re trying to grow in that direction and invite people who don’t sing to be board members. It just gave me a connection to the community and it gave them a perspective of someone who isn’t singing and what we should be doing to grow.”

Young promises that the audition process is simple.

“You just go in and sing some scales with (OCC Director Ardrey),” she said. “He places you in your section with what you need to do. You don’t need to prepare anything.”

One goal of the choir this year is to increase membership and to find new representatives for their board.

“We would love to see the choir grow,” Young said. “We want people to think of this as a fun way to be involved.”