A 1991 performance of Mozart’s Requiem, commemorating the 200th anniversary of the composer’s death, brought together a group of local singers under the baton of Mr. Alan M. Porter, the Chair of the Music Department and Director of the Fine Arts Division at Methodist College in Fayetteville, North Carolina. The ensemble enjoyed singing together so much that they became the genesis for the Fayetteville-based mixed adult community choir, the Cumberland Oratorio Singers (COS), now known as Cumberland Choral Arts (CCA). Dedicated to bringing classical choral works to the greater Cumberland County area, the group has expanded its repertoire to include jazz, opera, spirituals, standards, and music from the stage and screen.
During the first 17 seasons under Mr. Porter, the Cumberland Oratorio Singers performed 50 different complete choral works by 23 major composers and collaborated with the Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra for ten holiday music performances. The annual “walk-in” Messiah concert was started and welcomed anyone who wanted to sing this most popular of all oratorios as a part of their holiday celebration without auditions or rehearsals. The tradition continues with this concert offered as a gift to the community at no cost to the audience.
Following Mr. Porter’s retirement, Dr. Michael D. Martin took the baton as Conductor and Artistic Director in the Fall of 2008 after completing his first year as Director of Choral Activities and Director of Music Education at Methodist College (now University). Concert locations were expanded as the notoriety of the group grew following each concert, providing the opportunity for more people to enjoy fine classical choral works throughout Cumberland County. The COS also presented concerts in Hoke and Moore counties to further reach audiences in the Sandhills region.
Dr. Martin expanded the repertoire of the COS in 2013 with the addition of the Cross Creek Chorale (CCC), a smaller select-voice ensemble for concerts and community appearances. As the Sandhills’ elite choral society, the COS/CCC was invited to participate in the North Carolina Symphony’s annual 4th of July performance at Festival Park in July 2015. Collaboration continued the next season when COS partnered with the Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra for a hallmark presentation of Carmina Burana. This concert was the debut of COS’s newest offshoot, the Campbellton Youth Chorus (CYC), comprised of 4th – 8th grade singers from throughout Cumberland County. The CYC was the realization of the COS board’s pledge to provide opportunities for tomorrow’s singers to experience world-class choral music with live orchestral accompaniment. Mrs. Donna Jo Mangus is the Artistic Director of the CYC.
The baton passed to Mr. Jason Britt when he became the Artistic Director in the fall of 2017. During his tenure, COS continued presenting classic choral works by the masters but also branched out to include more concerts featuring jazz and opera as well as music from the stage and screen and America’s greatest composers.
With the addition of Segra Stadium and the Woodpeckers minor league baseball team in downtown Fayetteville in the summer of 2019, Mr. Britt was able to combine two of his loves, music and baseball, when the COS kicked off several games with the National Anthem. The summer of 2019 also brought about a name change when the Cumberland Oratorio Singers officially became Cumberland Choral Arts (CCA), better reflecting the broadened repertoire of the singing group.
Spring of 2020 brought Dr. Michael Martin back to the CCA podium. A formal Assistant Artistic Director position was established, and Mr. Ryan Pagels, Organist and Choirmaster at St. John’s Episcopal Church and staff accompanist on the Performing Arts faculty at Methodist University, brought his highly acclaimed skills as conductor, composer, and pianist to the group. Just two weeks later, the country shut down due to COVID-19. No concerts, no rehearsals, no singing together. Wanting to keep the singers connected during the pandemic, Monday night rehearsals became Monday night socials on Zoom through the spring and summer months. As fall approached, CCA and CCC members began rehearsing at home thanks to the many rehearsal videos provided by Dr. Martin and Mr. Pagels and accompanied by Mrs. Donna Davenport, CCA accompanist. Hours, days, weeks, and months went into producing several virtual choir pieces released in 2020 and 2021. CCA continued its collaboration with the Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra to virtually present Handel’s “Hallelujah” from Messiah. In February 2021, the second annual “Lift Every Voice and Sing” concert, organized by CCA/CCC member, Miss Brenda Vandervort, was presented live online. The very unique 2020 – 2021 season concluded with a spring concert that brought the CCA and CCC groups together to record at the Cape Fear Botanical Garden’s Orangery.
Cumberland Choral Arts’ mission to bring the finest choral music to Fayetteville, Cumberland County, and the Sandhills region will not be deterred, even by a pandemic. We look forward to singing for you live and in-person for 2021 – 2022, our 30th anniversary season.