Martha Gregory, 1976

by Liz Henry.

It all began in 1976 – Martha Gregory had a dream of starting a choral group on Hilton Head Island that would perform Handel’s “Messiah”. Martha, a singer who was well trained at the Wesleyan Conservatory in Macon, GA and private studies in New York, had also been a member of Clemson University’s music department. Wherever she lived, she was active in starting and conducting choirs.

The success of the first “Messiah” performance in Hilton Head, which was financed by a $500 grant from the Hilton Head Institute of the Arts, led to it becoming an annual event. Martha’s initiative and leadership for the next ten years firmly established the Hilton Head Choral Society as a unique group, and would make it the longest-running arts organization on Hilton Head Island.

The venues for performance changed throughout those early years, some of which no longer exist. Hilton Head Elementary School, the Community Playhouse on Archer Road, Planters Hall and First Baptist Church were all utilized until First Presbyterian became the main concert venue for both chorus and orchestra. In addition, local banks and organizations provided financial support so that professional soloists and orchestral musicians could be part of the performance.

John Carter & Mary Kay Beall, 1986

After Martha’s retirement from the Choral Society, the conducting reins were taken up by a husband/wife team – John Carter and Mary Kay Beall Carter, who had recently moved to Hilton Head. The Carters were nationally known as composers/lyricists of sacred and choral music, with, at that time, over 300 published works. In addition to the “Messiah” performance in December, they initiated a spring concert in May of 1987, which provided a wonderful outlet for those who wanted to sing other types of music. The Carters remained with the Choral Society for five years.

John Gosling, 1998

In 1991, John Gosling, who had recently assumed leadership of the Hilton Head Orchestra, added the Choral Society to his musical portfolio. He had studied choral conducting at Juilliard under Robert Shaw and for over thirty years had extensive experience juggling both orchestral and choral groups. During John’s tenure, the addition of a full orchestra to accompany the Choral Society enhanced the performances. In March of 1989, John’s final performance with the Choral Society was the Easter portion of “Messiah”.

Mary Woodmansee-Green, Conductor, 1999

The next year, Mary Green became the new Choral Society director. Mary was also conducting the Hilton Head Orchestra as well as handling choral and orchestral groups in the Philadelphia area. Under Mary’s leadership, the Choral Society sang “Carmina Burana” with orchestra and members of her Philadelphia choral group. In addition, Leonard Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms” was performed at Congregation Beth Yam – a completely new venue. Conflicts with orchestra rehearsals and the demands of the Philadelphia area groups resulted in Mary’s resignation in 2000.

Enter – Tim Reynolds. Tim’s entry into the Hilton Head musical community was indeed fortuitous – he had already sung one concert with the Choral Society and would conduct when Mary Green was not available. The members liked him and responded well to his instruction – he was the perfect fit for the group. Little did anyone know, including Tim, that he would remain at the helm for TWENTY years!!

Tim Reynolds, 2010

During this time, Tim’s title was changed to “Artistic Director” – which SOMEWHAT recognized the breadth of his contributions and achievements. Tim’s innovations were many – he introduced the Chamber Singers, a small group of Choral Society members who sang chamber
music. He began a children’s choir, open to all students in the Hilton Head area; this group had its own concerts and sang with the Choral Society.

He expanded the programming to four concerts per year – an early fall Pops concert, the Christmas concert, a spring concert and a patriotic salute at Memorial Day. Members also sang at town ceremonies commemorating this day. Christmas caroling at the Cypress was another outreach event that was enjoyed by many of the residents. Perhaps one of the most profound and emotional concerts was after 9/11 – the Choral Society sang at Holy Family Catholic Church – performing inspirational and patriotic songs.

Tim was an active participant with the Choral Society’s Board of Directors – giving guidance, offering unique solutions and suggestions, and always able to keep the programming within budget! A major portion of this budgetary conundrum was solved by Tim writing and arranging the orchestral parts for our performances. Tim’s use of orchestra players enhanced and supported the choral singing; it did not overwhelm.

The twenty years with Tim passed all too swiftly. He will be remembered as “The Big Guy” who had a deep sense of caring and commitment to the music, to the members and to the audience.