DELMARVA ALMANAC

Dr. James Wilson - Delaware Choral Society

by Dana Kester-McCabe

Dr. James Wilson is the Artistic Director of the Delaware Choral Society and an Associate Professor of Music at Wesley College.

Dr. Wilson also directs the Wesley College Choir, the Kent Chamber Choir, and the Chancel Choir at Wesley UMC in Dover. Recently I caught up with Dr. Wilson and I asked him to tell me about how he became interested in singing choral works and a little of the history of the Delaware Choral Society.

Dr. James Wilson:
“I’ve always loved singing and choral singing in particular. When I was eleven I sang in the Metropolitan Boys Choir in Minneapolis and fell in love with it then. I fell in love with it even sooner when I was in an all-district elementary school choir.”

“So, our teachers would select a handful of us in each school and we would come together and it was a sixty-voice choir. And that was the first time I experienced singing in harmony with a group. Because in elementary school when you sing together you are mostly just singing the melody. In that choir we were able to sing parts and it was just thrilling. And ever since I have felt the power of people coming together and singing together.”

“How many other avenues coming from different corners of the community coming together, to, to create something together exist?”

“In the choral society, for instance, we have people of all different ages, all different faith backgrounds, all different political backgrounds, coming together and doing something they love together. And there is no reason to argue, or um, debate. It’s just for the love of music. And so many of the songs we sing are about love, and fellowship.”

“The choral society was formed in 1957. It was a sort of consortium of choirs in the Dover area, who wanted to sing works like Handel’s Messiah, larger works that a smaller church choir doesn’t usually do. So, they came together. I think they started with Messiah. And they have done Messiah every five years since then. Next year is a Messiah year, so that is coming up.”

“And the group has existed ever since as a not for profit organization. And they do secular as well as sacred music now. Generally, we do two concerts a year and the Schwartz Center is where we perform most concerts.”


The Delaware Choral Society will partner with the Delaware Youth Chorale under the direction of Heather Swartzentruber for a concert coming up next week at the Schwartz Center in Dover, Delaware. Here is what Dr. Wilson had to say about what they will be singing.

Dr. James Wilson:
“This is the Choral Society’s winter program. It’s called the Poet’s Lyre. And it involves both the Delaware Choral Society, and the Delaware Youth Choral. The Choral Society is a large chorus of about seventy singers. And the Youth Chorale is from about 4th through 7th grade, and there are twenty some of them. The first part of the program is just the large chorus, and the second part of the program involves both the large chorus and the Youth Chorale. And, we sing a variety of carols together.”

“There is a history of the poet, or the bard, singing their poetry; and I think we forget how much of choral works are tied to poetry. And so, in this program I have incorporated the works of great poets, mostly American and British.”

“So we have pieces set to poems by Robert Bridges, Longfellow, Robert Frost, James Agee, Christopher Marlow. So, it’s a variety of great poetry set to beautiful music. Some of these poems are about philosophy. I think about the great poem by Robert Frost: of stopping by woods on a snowy evening; and uh, the road not taken. “two roads diverged in a yellow wood.” The symbolic meaning in those poems, it’s powerful stuff. It’s stuff that makes you think.”

“And, everybody in the choir will have a different interpretation of it. Yet we’re making sounds together. We’re creating a unified whole, even though we are coming from it from different understandings and different interpretations. I think that’s really neat.”

“We’re taking words and music on the written page and giving it life, giving it breath. So, there are different stages along the way. The poet, the composer, who in most cases, in this program, are different people. So, there is that collaboration. And then, we add our collaboration to it. And, then there is the magic of what can happen in the performance. You know, anything can happen in the performance. That is the magic of the performance and the theatrical stage. Anything can happen and that is part of the excitement of going to hear live music or live theater. It is art making in the moment. It is the synthesis of all those stages of making art.”


Dr. Wilson says that joining a chorus is a great way for kids to get out from behind their digital screens and do something as a team. Sports are great but for the youngster who is not interested in them music is great way to go. Adults also benefit from the sense of community and pleasure found singing in a community choir. Both the Delaware Choral Society and the Delaware Youth Chorale are open to anyone who wants to join.

Dr. James Wilson:
“The kids are really cute. [Laughs] They are probably my favorite part. The Youth Choral, we’ve only had them about six seasons, so they are relatively young. They started this group while I was on as artistic director so I have been able to watch it take shape. And, I want to see it continue to grow.”

“I want to reach more parents. I want the community to see the value it is, to be a part of it. It’s only forty bucks. I know they are paying more than that for soccer.”

“What’s great about both groups is that there is no audition required. Anybody can come and join, and sing. If someone is reluctant because they think: “I don’t have a good singing voice.” Or, “I don’t read music very well.” These are good outlets, the best outlets in town because, they are large enough, that you fell the support of everyone else in your section. If you are a soprano or an alto, there are twenty other people in that section that you can mix your own contribution in with. So, you’re not sticking out. No one in the audience is hearing you individually. But you are contributing your voice to the product. And, that’s comforting for people, I think. And, um, if you go through the rehearsal process, singers notice that they are getting better at reading the notes. And it gets better every week. And people, they get better in their skill set every week."


Music lovers will enjoy the concert next week and it may inspire you and your children to join your local choral group. A Poet’s Lyre will be presented next Sunday, December 11, 2016, at 4PM at the Schwartz Center for the Arts in Dover, Delaware. Find out more at: http://www.delawarechoralsociety.org