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Chorale opens season, 30th anniversary, with ‘Elijah’

“Passion and Pearls” go together as the theme for the Carolina Master Chorale’s 30th anniversary season, which begins Sunday with Mendelssohn’s “Elijah” at Myrtle Beach High School.

Tim Koch, in his 13th year as the chorale’s music director and conductor, said the singers’ belt out “passion in all our activities.”

“We’ve been calling ourselves ‘The Voices of Passion’ for about five years,” he said.

Koch also credited Larry Wilson, executive director, who reminded everyone that pearls make up the gift for a 30th anniversary.

“I think we hit 25 years,” Koch said, “and that one sort caught up on us … so a couple of years ago, we started talking, to make this year something special.”

Chorale management reviewed its work from the past three decades to see what audiences liked the most, Koch said. Other concerts comprise “Feliz Navidad: Christmas from Spain and Latin America” twice in mid-December, “Hearts of Passion IV: A Gospel Valentine” thrice in February, and Bizet’s “Carmen” in early May.

‘Blink of an eye’

Koch said revisiting favorites and such big works as “Carmen” lets the singers remember why the rehearsal process merits love, “because when that performance comes, that’s done in the blink of an eye.”

Pairing another Valentine’s concert weekend with gospel hymns also merits heavenly ranks for the chorale.

“Last year’s gospel concert was one of the most attended programs of my tenure,” Koch said. “People are just begging for more of that.”

The chorale’s continuing partnership with the Long Bay Symphony, whose chamber orchestra will play in the concert this weekend and the “Carmen” closer, remains in tune, with four collaborations this season. Koch also said he’s assembling the choir for Handel’s “Messiah” in Long Bay’s “Bach and Handel for the Advent Season” program for “Messiah” in early December, and lend some voices for a third year in a row for Long Bay’s annual benefit for the Myrtle Beach Rotary Club, in February, “Broadway Rocks!”

Koch also counts Long Bay’s music director/conductor, Charles Jones Evans, among the chorale’s 93 members, which include some fellow music faculty personnel from Coastal Carolina University in Conway such as Ann Benson, Jeffrey Jones and Donald Sloan.

In his fourth semester as a professor at CCU, Koch said the students and faculty impress him with their talent level, and that “through them, I’ve picked up all kinds of new ideas about teaching voice.”

That bonus material also carries over to the almost-all-volunteer chorale.

“It’s clearly helped our sound,” Koch said.

With rehearsals for about 2 1/2 hours weekly, Koch asks all the singers to “stay in touch with the music between Thursdays.”

Joining colleagues

Benson, an artist in residence at CCU, will sing the mezzo-soprano part Sunday in “Elijah,” among five soloists who include Jones on baritone, and her husband, Bankston, tenor.

She said she’s encouraged by the growth in “leaps and bounds” of the arts in Myrtle Beach and that through her work at CCU, she sees young adults embrace music and theater.

“Music is going through the roof,” Benson said. “We can’t keep up.”

Teaching vocal and music theater styles of singing, Benson sees how both go “hand in hand,” utilizing “the same techniques,” such as for warm-ups in vocal classes or for students in “The Rocky Horror Show” earlier this month at the college.

Benson voiced her appreciation to Koch’s “sensitivity to the music and how he comes out not just from a scholarly point, but with his heart” and that she looks forward to working with Evans on “Elijah.”

She said she has performed the piece “a lot through the years,” first as soprano with the New York City Opera. She said has enjoyed doing “Elijah” in various places, including a televised show on PBS across the Southeast, and moving to an alto part about seven years ago.

Benson first heard of Koch when he led a choral society in Columbia.

“I had never even met him,” Benson said, “but I heard only glowing reports about him. … I guess it was inevitable that our paths would cross.”