It is hard to believe that it has been almost 4 years since I first sat in a Board meeting for the Knoxville Choral Society and heard the idea to commission a choral piece in honor of our Artistic Director/Conductor, Dr. Eric Thorson. The journey that commenced on that day led me down one of the most rewarding paths of my musical career, not just for the musical accomplishment, but for the people who I met along the way. The choice was made on that summer Sunday in 2010 to commission John Purifoy, a composer living in Knoxville to create this work to honor Eric. I had met John on a few occasions and had sung his works many times. I had no idea the friendship and bond that would be created between the two of us. After that meeting, John began his creative journey and the rest of us started making the dream a reality.
Over the next year, we planned, we prayed, we contacted potential donors and raised money. We met, we laughed, we cried and we wondered if we could make this happen. I will be forever grateful to Nancy Middlemas, Anne Siddell, Sarah Davis, Carroll Logan, Steve Boyce, Terryl Oliver, Angie France, Stephanie Reynolds and so many others who tirelessly devoted themselves to make this happen. Meeting Dr. Robert Overholt and learning of his great love and respect for both Eric and John was a highlight during this time. His generosity and his belief in KCS and this project propelled us to the next level.
The summer of 2011 brought another milestone. John Purifoy came to our Board meeting and shared the beginning of his creativity with us. We sang through some of the pieces that would be included in “Chronicles of Blue and Gray.” It was the only choral work we knew of that told the story of both the Confederate and the Union Armies during the Civil War. John’s opening strains were beautiful. His research into poetry, the speeches of Abraham Lincoln and songs of the period were being woven together to tell a story that was poignant in history, but still had so much to say to us in the 21st Century about healing and reconciliation. After that meeting, John continued his creative journey and the rest of us kept working to make the dream a reality.
In November of 2012, the Knoxville Choral Society presented the World Premiere of John Purifoy’s “Chronicles of Blue and Gray”. We were joined on stage by Carson-Newman University’s A Cappella Choir and members of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, all under the baton of Dr. Eric Thorson. Our venue was the majestic Tennessee Theatre in Knoxville and we sold out the theatre for this magical night. John’s work was a rousing success and we were elated that the dream had finally come to fruition.
Fast forward to June 8, 2014, change the venue to Carnegie Hall in New York City. The choir is made up of singers from the Knoxville Choral Society, as well as other singers from Tennessee, Florida and Mississippi, all of us gathered together at John’s invitation. We are presenting the New York Premiere of “Chronicles of Blue and Gray”. After a beautiful performance and the standing ovation of a receptive New York audience, I have to almost pinch myself to comprehend the reality of where I am standing. I have found myself on the stage of one of the most prestigious concert halls in the world. On one side of me is a dear friend, on the other side is John Purifoy and together, we are taking a bow for our choirs, for the performance, for this work and for the One who gave us the gift of music.
Singing with me in the choir were people I had met 48 hours before, friends I have sung with in KCS for the past 8 seasons, a person I consider to be my one of my “besties”, a sweet friend whom I have sung with since our college days together and even my elementary school music teacher. In my heart, Dr. Eric Thorson, Mrs. Ann Jones, and others who have directed and mentored me in my musical career were present. I also felt the presence of those who are no longer with me on this earth, but have loved me and nurtured me in my life. Most of all though, I felt the presence of God who gives me reason every day to sing and who guides my steps on this journey of life.