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Chorus brings back memories


Dear Friends,

Good morning, This past weekend, Mighty Betsy and I saw a wonderful film at the County Theater and heard a Mennonite choir perform “The Elijah” in Lansdale. We also learned that Jeffrey Schroy of Quakertown had left this world for the next.

Jeffery Schroy’s grandfather, father and mother spent their careers at the Quakertown Free Press. James Schroy was my grandfather’s and father’s bookkeeper. Jeffrey’s parents (Charles and Joyce) ran the composition department. I’ve known the Schroy family all of my life.

Jeffrey was an engineer with the Cowan organization here in Quakertown. He and his wife, Ellen, were members of the Richland Friends (Quaker) Meeting. There, he was the treasurer for years before passing that baton to me.

I was always amazed at the low cost of running Richland Meeting. Then again, Quaker meetings don’t have the financial pressure of salaries for pastors, choir directors and organists.

Jeffrey took his duties seriously. He was also a member of the Richland Library Board of Directors in Quakertown. Jeffrey was only 71.

And now to “The Elijah.”

The first time Mighty Betsy and I sang “The Elijah” was in the 1960s. The choirs of First Church UCC and Trinity Lutheran Church choirs, both in Quakertown, combined for the project. It wasn’t easy.

Norman Cressman sang the title role; Lucile Zetty was the contralto soloist; and Steve Frederick the conductor. For three months, we rehearsed, alternating between the two churches. Attorney Rodney Henry sang in the bass section. Kenneth Cressman sang in the tenor section. His wife and two daughters were sopranos and altos respectively.

Actually it was one of MB’s best friends, Ellie Penniman, who introduced “Elijah” to us. She had sung it in her college days. We remember playing the records at her house and rehearsing the choruses. Years later we sang it with the Berkshire Choral Festival. It didn’t get easier no matter how many times we sang it.

So, when Henry Rosenberger told me that he and his wife Charlotte would be performing “Elijah” with two local Mennonite church choirs, MB and I knew we’d be in the audience. Esther Shisler was in Henry’s chorus too. For years, she sang with MB and me in the Philadelphia Singers Chorale.

The concert was presented by the Franconia-Lancaster (FL) Choral Singers and Orchestra at the First Baptist Church in Lansdale with a second performance in Lititz.

There were 53 in the choir … perfectly balanced with 14 sopranos, 15 altos, 12 tenors and 12 basses. The orchestra was composed of violins, violas, cello, bass and tympani … plus the magnificent pipe organ. The choir has a 50-year history and is non-auditioned. MB and I loved it. The four soloists were excellent. All had impressive credentials.

Written by Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, “The Elijah” was written in English, not German. The oratorio takes 2½ hours to perform. We heard J.S. Bach-like choralesin several of the movements. When Mendelssohn was composing in the early 1800s Bach was all but forgotten. Mendelssohn successfully rescued Bach from obscurity.

I remember my Penn musicologist professor, Guy Marriner, telling us that if Mendelssohn had written just two pieces (the overtures to “Fingal’s Cave” and “Midsummer Night’s Dream”) both at the age of 17, Mendelssohn would have been recognized as a giant in the Romantic era.

The program notes told us that “the prominent scenes treated in ‘Elijah’ are the drought prophecy, the restoration of life to the widow’s son, the rival sacrifices, the appearance of rain in answer to Elijah’s appeal, Jezebel’s persecution of Elijah, the sojourn in the desert, his return, his disappearance in the fiery chariot, and the finale, which reflects upon the meaning of the sacred narrative.”

The finale’s chorus was thrilling. “And then shall your Light break forth as the Light of the Morning.”

“The Elijah” brought back wonderful memories.

Last, MB and I saw “Amazing Grace” at the County Theater and highly recommend it. “In 1972, Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, recorded “Amazing Grace,” the best-selling gospel album of all time, the County Theater’s brochure explained. “Director Sydney Pollack shot extensive footage of the rehearsals and live recording, but insurmountable technical problems prevented the movie from being completed for 45 years.”

The music reminded us about our week at music camp 30 years ago when the Berkshire Choral Festival presented “Gospel” week. There were 200 of us singers and an orchestra of 60. Our dear friends Jane and Francis Ballard from Philadelphia, had relationships with African American churches and their choirs.

Francis raised the money to pay for 30 of their gospel sings to join us for the week’s rehearsals and the Saturday night performance. They taught us Gospel music …we taught them the George Gershwin songs and their complicated harmonies and rhythms. which were a part of the program.

The theater was packed with more than 1,000 in the audience. We’ll never forget musically shouting, “Soon, Very Soon.” I can still hear the melody in my mind.

Sincerely, Charles Meredith

By the way, it just occurred to me that Joe Biden, the presidential front runner on the Democratic side of the ledger could sew up the nomination 18 months early. If he chooses Anita Hill as his vice presidential running mate, all of his competitors could throw in the towel. Anita Hill is an African American woman, a key demographic for the Democratic Party. A Yale Law School grad, she was badly treated during Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court confirmation hearing in 1991. Thomas was confirmed by the narrowest vote … 52 to 48. Biden was the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time.

I remember Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Spector leading the attack on Anita Hill’s veracity. Spector was a member of the Judiciary Committee. I never supported Spector after his performance.