The Fine Arts Center (FAC) of Kershaw County is preparing to say farewell to long-time Chamber Choir of Kershaw County (CCKC) Music Director Dr. Susan Wyatt. After 25 years of leadership with CCKC, Dr. Wyatt has announced she will retire at the end of this season. The CCKC will present its Spring Concert to honor Dr. Wyatt on Friday, May 6 at 7 p.m. in the Wood Auditorium of the FAC. There will be a reception for Dr. Wyatt immediately following the concert. The public is encouraged to attend and help the FAC thank Dr. Wyatt for her dedication to the arts in Kershaw County. Admission is $5.
In September 1991, with the help of a grant from the Frederick S. Upton Foundation, the FAC hired Dr. Wyatt to form a county-wide children’s choir to foster musical excellence, teach commitment, responsibility, and social skills to young children through music. At the time, Dr. Wyatt was pursuing her doctorate degree at the University of South Carolina. Prior to coming to the FAC, Dr. Wyatt was at Loyola University as director of the New Orleans Symphony Chorus, Women’s Chorus and Eurhythmics instructor. In addition to her tenure with the FAC, she was the director of the Greater Columbia Children’s Chorus, the Kershaw County District Chorus and the Junior Choir of First Presbyterian Church in Columbia. She is a member of the American Choral Directors Association and Music Educator’s National Conference. She is a clinician, director, and adjudicator throughout the state. She was the ACDA Repertoire and Standards Chair for Children’s Choirs for the state of South Carolina.
In the fall of 1991, auditions were held in the historic Douglas-Reed House for children in grades 4 through 8 who loved to sing and were recommended by their teachers. The FAC’s Children’s Chorus was born. This chorus had been a dream of the members of the Camden Music Association (now known as Kershaw County Music Association (KCMA) for many years. After years of planning and hard work, along with the grant from the Upton Foundation, the dream became a reality.
In December 1991, the Children’s Chorus performed their first public performance for the Kershaw County Chamber of Commerce’s breakfast singing two songs, accompanied by Billy Shepherd of the Upton Trio. The chorus then performed their first major concert at the FAC on December 10. The concert included choral music of Bach, Christmas carols, canons, as well as secular and sacred pieces.
In its first year, the Children’s Chorus consisted of 36 members who performed 10 concerts throughout the county. The chorus included students from Baron DeKalb, Midway and Pine Tree Hill elementary schools, as well as Camden and Lugoff middle schools.
During the 1993-94 season, the Children’s Chorus performed at the Choral Festival in Charlotte, at Carowinds, as well as at the First Presbyterian Church in Columbia and at an ASID Designer Showhouse at the Hobkirk Inn in Camden. A highlight of the year was a performance with the S.C. Philharmonic Orchestra and the Columbia Choral Society in a presentation of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. In 1997, in a partnership with the Kershaw County School District, and funded by an ABC Grant (Arts in the Basic Curriculum) from the S.C. Arts Commission, the District Chorus was formed for children in grades 4 and 5.
By 1999, four choral groups had been established by Dr. Wyatt and the FAC -- The Apprentice Chorus (grades 1-2,) Children’s Chorus (grades 3-7,) Children’s Choir (grades 4-9,) and the Chamber Choir (grades 9-12). They completed a concert tour to New York City, performing at the United Nations and on Long Island. The choirs sang for the prestigious Verner Awards, the Governor’s Carolighting, Prayer Breakfast and Governor Hodges’ Inaugural Prayer Service, as well as his "First Steps to School Readiness" Celebration Dinner. They participated in the FAC’s Chamber Concert Series with Charles Wadsworth and with the Mt. Tabor Chamber Series. The choirs also performed with the South Carolina Philharmonic, the Camden Community Band, the Women’s Chorale, and at the Township Auditorium with the Carolina Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker with the Columbia Festival Orchestra. In the spring of 2000, the choirs released a compact disc. The 2001 season included a concert trip to New Orleans.
One of their greatest accomplishments was a collaboration with three other groups chosen to premier a new work by Robert Jager based on the UNICEF publication "I Dream of Peace," which was a compilation of images of war written by children of the former Yugoslavia in New York City. It was performed several times debuting at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, in Columbia, followed by a performance in Charleston for the Southern Division Convention of the American Choral Directors Association and with the Bryan Symphony Orchestra in Cumberland, Tenn.
Under Dr. Wyatt’s leadership, the children’s choir groups continued to grow. They performed for audiences in Williamsburg and Richmond, Va., and while in Washington, D.C., they performed for then Congressman John Spratt at the U.S. Capitol.
Near the beginning of her time with the FAC, Dr. Wyatt made a statement about the program and music education which remains true today.
"Music is necessary for education because it uses the brain in ways that academics don’t … in intellect, memory and coordination," she said. "Singing is something you can do throughout your life, a means of self-expression, inspiration and pleasure, and a builder of community … bringing a diverse group of people together."
After many years, the Children’s Choirs morphed into what is now known as the Chamber Choir of Kershaw County featuring girls from 6th to 12th grade and women. They continue to perform two concerts a year, a Christmas concert, and their annual spring concert in May. They have shared some of the great classical and folk music of our culture in schools, retirement homes, and churches. They have collaborated with the Mastersingers, Sandlappers and with the Columbia Choral Society.
"Susan Wyatt has made a life-long impression on hundreds of young musicians in Kershaw County," Mary Ellen Jordan, one of the founders of the program, said. "The excellent musical experiences she has provided for them will continue to influence them throughout their lives and enable them to intelligently discriminate between excellence and mediocrity. Her unique humanity shines forth in her deep love for excellent music and those people whose lives she has touched."
For more tickets or for information, please call 425-7676, ext. 300, or visit www.fineartscenter.org.