For almost half a century, the Woman's Afternoon Music Club has welcomed the season of Advent by bringing together vocal ensembles from the community for a concert of Christmas music. For 47 years the Festival of Choirs has been presented on the first Sunday of Advent, which this year falls on Dec. 3.
Christians prepare for Christmas and the commemoration of Christ's birth during the Advent season, which ends on Dec. 24 each year. The music club's Festival of Choirs has long been considered the opening of the sacred Christmas season in Sumter, President Betsy Ridgeway said.
She explained that each choir participating in the 3 p.m. Sunday concert at Trinity United Methodist Church has at least one member who also belongs to the Woman's Afternoon Music Club.
"We also wanted to highlight our local high school choirs," Ridgeway said, "because they are so awesome."
Following the prelude by the Trinity Ringers playing "West Indies Carol," a welcome from Ridgeway and the invocation by the Rev. Joseph James, pastor of Trinity UMC, the Crestwood High School Chamber Choir will open the program with "Hallelujah" from "The Mount of Olives" by Beethoven. Deborah Horton will direct, and Hamilton Stoddard will accompany the choir on organ.
Ashlee Poole will direct the Sumter High School Chamber Ensemble in Still, Still, Still, in a Norman Luboff arrangement of the Austrian carol. Mark Burns and Kay Rasmussen will accompany on piano.
Ridgeway said the Lakewood High School choir will be featured in the club's spring concert.
Church choirs performing will be Trinity United Methodist Church, which is hosting the concert, First Baptist Church, First Presbyterian Church, Dalzell United Methodist Church, St. James Lutheran Church and Bethel United Methodist Church.
Also performing in the festival will be Sumter Civic Chorale, directed by Paul Frey and accompanied by Anne Dav on piano. The chorale will sing Ruth Elaine Schram's "By Candlelight."
The Woman's Afternoon Music Club Ensemble, directed by Betty Shofner, will sing "The Hands That First Held Mary's Child" by Thomas Troeger and Dan Forrest, with accompaniment by pianist Susan Hutson and cellist Kyla Kitterman.
In addition to the Trinity Ringers, Charles Haraway will direct the Trinity UMC Chamber Choir in singing Richard Burchard's "Creator Alme Siderum." Organist Beth Lewallen will accompany.
Bethel UMC, directed by Frey and accompanied by Mary Alice Beatson on piano and Hugh China on djembe, will sing Pepper Choplin's "Beautiful Candlelight."
First Baptist Church will sing "The Little Drummer Boy" with Psalm 150 by Katherine Davis, Henry Onorati and Harry Simeone, arranged by Travis Cottrell. Allen Lowe directs, with accompaniment by pianist Kristin Lowe and organist Pat Holloway.
First Presbyterian Church will present Geonyong's "Come Now, O Prince of Peace" in Jeremy Bankson's arrangement. Joni Brown will direct, and accompanists are Hamilton Stoddard on piano, Alex Beaton on oboe and Kenny Jordan on percussion.
Joel Raney's "Somebody Build a Manger" will be sung by the Dalzell United Methodist Church choir, directed by Betty Shofner, accompanied by Kelley S. Rembert on piano and Jeff McClendon on cajon, an 18th-century percussion instrument.
William Scobee will direct and accompany St. James Lutheran Choir on organ, and Michael Baier will play cello on O Little Town of Bethlehem by Phillips Brooks and Lewis H. Redner, arranged by Grant Cochran.
Ridgeway said the congregation will be invited to stand and sing several traditional Christmas carols during the changing of the choirs.
As is traditional, the combined choirs will end the program by singing George Frideric Handel's "Hallelujah" from his oratorio "The Messiah." They will be directed by Joni Brown and accompanied by Beth Lewallen on organ and Stephen Winn on timpani.