The Sarasota Choral Society was actually formed
nine years previous to this by Mrs. Thomas Butler. Singers from
local church choirs had weekly rehearsals and two concerts per
year, one at Christmas and one in the spring. Membership was
comprised of people from area churches, just as many of the
members today. Three of these members were instrumental in
getting the Choral Society to put on the Messiah: Mrs.
Walter Wooten, Mrs. Eleanor Bates Northern, and long time board
member Elizabeth (Lane) Whittington. Mrs. Northern would conduct
rehearsals and a director from Tampa was brought in for the
actual performance. The practice of hiring local musicians for
the Society’s performance also originated in 1945, and this
loosely formed group became the nucleus for what is known today
as the Sarasota Orchestra (formerly known as the Florida West Coast Symphony). In the 1940s and
early 1950s, anywhere from 50-75 members sang in the group and
performances were held in the Municipal Auditorium.
Julia W. Rohr began a new chapter of the Choral
Society’s history when she was hired as director in 1956.
Membership throughout her years increased to as many as 300 and
performances have been held at First Baptist, First Methodist,
and Bahia Vista Mennonite Churches, the John and Mabel Ringling
Museum of Art courtyard, and, since 1973, the Van Wezel
Performing Arts Hall. Dr. Rohr retired at her zenith with the
Choral Society, conducting her last production, celebrating the
Society’s 50th Anniversary performance of Messiah, on
December 4, 1994 at Van Wezel.
In 1995, the director’s baton was most ably
picked up by a native Sarasotan (born at Sarasota Memorial
Hospital), Robert Romanski. Mr. Romanski led the Choral
Society’s annual Messiah performances through 2004 in
such venues as Van Wezel, Samuel R. Neel Auditorium at MCC, the
Epiphany Cathedral in Venice, and the Church of the Palms
On November 28, 2004 The
Sarasota Choral Society presented its 60th Anniversary Gala Performance
at the Church of the Palms Presbyterian Church in Sarasota where the
organization was honored with proclamations from the City of Sarasota
and the Sarasota County Commission for its long history of contributions
to the arts and lifestyle in the Sarasota area. One of the main
highlights of the evening occurred when Sarasota Mayor Richard F.
Martin, City Commissioner Lou Ann Palmer, County Commissioner David
Mills, and Sarasota County School Board member Dr. Kathy Kleinlein
honored Dr. Rohr with her own proclamations for her almost half century
of support and leadership of the arts and music in Sarasota. The Choral
Society presented her with a lifetime achievement award on behalf of the
citizens of Sarasota and its members. Dr. Rohr came out of retirement at
the end of the evening by conducting the final movement of Messiah:
Worthy is the Lamb that was slain following Mr. Romanski's
leadership of the Christmas portion of Messiah which included
the Hallelujah Chorus. Mr. Romanski, Fonda Davies, and
Concertmaster Harmann Haakman were awarded plaques by the Choral
Society for their dedicated service over the years. This
performance was videotaped and a DVD produced which is available at
performances and through the "Fund Raising"
page of this website.
2005 brought The Sarasota Choral Society under the
direction of dynamic Artistic Director, Deidre Reigel. Her experience in
opera, dance, technical direction, staging and lighting, and orchestral
leadership, along with seemingly limitless amounts of energy and a
relentless drive for excellence made her the ideal person to lead this
organization into a very exciting and promising future.
2006 saw a new cooperative arrangement between
The Sarasota Choral Society and the Sarasota Pops Orchestra as both organizations explored new and exciting possibilities in the performing
The Sarasota Choral Society started a new chapter
in its longevity as it celebrated its 65th consecutive
annual performance of Messiah on December 5, 2009 with a new
Artistic Director; Genevieve Beauchamp. With a strong background in
choral singing and piano, Ms. Beauchamp will continue the organizations
long standing tradition of choral excellence as she builds on the work
of previous Artistic Directors Deidre Reigel, Robert Romanski, and Dr.
Julia W. Rohr.
To inaugurate the beginning of celebrations and
special events for our 70th anniversary production of Messiah in
2014, on February 9, 2013, The Sarasota Choral Society sponsored a very special performance:
"Dueling Pianos: The Gloves Come Off!" featuring our very own Artistic
Director Geneviève Beauchamp and Accompanist Dr. Jonathan Spivey playing
"interlocked" grand pianos at Church of the Palms to a packed house.
We sincerely hope you will join us, either in the audience or on
stage, as we continue our journey of choral excellence in the Sarasota
area and beyond.