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Beverly Vetter andStaff Reports
Longtime musical director Evans Baird will hang up his director’s baton, making this year his final Rotary Community Choir Christmas Concert.
“I’ve enjoyed it. It just takes an awful lot out of me,” said Baird, who has directed eighteen annual Rotary cantatas.
The concert began with a suggestion from the Rotary just as Baird closed 30 years as band and chorus director at Westwood Junior High School.
Baird was interested, but never thought it would come together.
“I wanted Martha Hodges to play because she’s a trained organist and it had to be at First Baptist Church because that was the only place big enough to have it.”
One of the big limitations to producing the choir is the cost of acquiring the rights to use the music.
“The Rotary would have to buy the music and that’s expensive. So we sat down with several [Rotary] people,” Baird said.
“I thought they would talk themselves out of it, but they didn’t. It worked.”
That first year gained so much attention that since two performances are held.
“We had a houseful, and since then we decided to do two nights instead of one. We have a good attendance both nights.
Baird said that the show has grown over the years. One noted addition has been harpist Betty Ashton Andrews of Nashville.
“We’ve had good success with it,” Baird said, “and somewhere down the line we added the children [recital] to it. That has been a success too.”
Christmas begins in
Each year since 1994, the last Monday in September marks the first rehearsal of the Rotary Community Choir. This year’s practice begins Sept. 30.
For many members, the rehearsals and concert are an important part of their holiday preparations. For others, it’s the opportunity to sing in a group directed by Evans Baird that is important.
Rotary member and co-chairman with Ray Wood of the Community Choir project, Brad Goodwin, has been a part of the choir since 2003.
He recalls, “One morning Ray asked me at a Rotary meeting to assist him with the Christmas Choir project. When he informed me that Evans Baird was the director, I jumped at the opportunity to help. Evans retired [from teaching] while I was a student at Westwood Jr. High, and I always enjoyed being a part of his band and choir.
“Evans is an institution. Being a small town, Manchester has been blessed to have someone of his caliber impact the lives of students while he was a teacher and now adults as he continues to devote his time and talents to the community.”
Marina Bynum, a choir member whose children have all participated in the Children’s Choir, wonders how Baird can get a group of children as young as second grade to sing in two and three-part harmony. “It’s amazing,” she added.
All former choir members and anyone who would simply enjoy singing with a large group led by a skilled director are encouraged to join the choir to make this the best Community Choir yet. Norm Vetter, who will be participating for the first time this year said, “Like so many others, I, too was one of Evans’ students at Westwood. And while I was in band not choir, I was touched by his talent and concern. I wanted to take this opportunity to make music with him.”
Lest anyone think that participation in the choir is too time consuming. Marina Bynum has some words of warning: “One year I decided that my schedule was simply too crazy and that singing in the choir was something I just didn’t have time for. Nevertheless, I went to hear the concert and from the first note of the first song of the first concert, I knew that I had made a mistake. I should have been up there singing. Singing in this choir takes only an hour and a half per week. It is definitely worth the time.”
Practices are on Mondays from 7-8:30 p.m. Sept. 30 through Dec. 2.
Baird said that the September start for rehearsals is not too early.
“The rehearsals have to be pretty intense, because we can’t afford to waste that time.”
Baird said that he leads ten, hour-and-half long rehearsals.
“I feel that with every rehersal, I have to get from point A to point B.”
He said in 19 years he has never missed a rehearsal.
“It is intense, but we just have to get it done.”
Ten rehearsals may sound like a lot, but it’s precious little time compared to the preparation that Baird would expect from his students.
“That’s not a lot of rehearsing for the heavy program that we do…. I taught school for years and I wouldn’t dare take my school choir out with only two weeks of practicing.”
“It’s a heavy program as far as music is concerned.”
The majority of the rehearsals are held at the First Presbyterian Church, 1101 Jackson Street in Manchester. The final two rehearsals are at the First Baptist Church 1006 Hillsboro Blvd. The concerts will be at 7 p.m., Dec. 6 and 7 at First Baptist Church.