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Montgomery County Choral Society performs ‘The Future is Here!’ Concert

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On the evening ofMonday, October 11, 2021, the lights dimmed at First United Methodist Church in Conroe.  Dr. Robert Horton, Artistic Director for the Montgomery County Choral Society, stepped to the microphone to officially open its 50th season.  Dr. Horton thanked the full house and promised an evening of stirring music on the theme, “The Future is Here!” 

Dr. Robert Horton Artistic Director of MCCS and Director of Fine Arts for Conroe Independent School District
Photo Credit: Steve Powell; Dr. Robert Horton, Artistic Director of MCCS and Director of Fine Arts for Conroe Independent School District

As Dr. Horton spoke, the 66 members of the Mitchell Mustang Choir filed quickly onto the risers behind him.  The intermediate school group (fifth and sixth grades) is a regular at both choral festivals and professional association conferences.  They were the first of three groups to sing, kicking off the music-filled evening with “Kookaburra,” the story of a little Australian bird, sitting in an old tree, eating gum drops and counting monkeys.  Parents and grandparents leaned forward in their seats, many taking photos, recording the moment.  Younger brothers and sisters sat at the edge of their seats, caught up in the story.  Their second piece, “Banuwa Yo,” featured a percussion ensemble from the choir.  

“These kids are my life,” said Mrs. Cyndie Lowry, director of the Mitchell choir, stressing the preparation needed for her students to perform. Mrs. Lowry went on to explain that the pandemic has taken a toll on all school choirs.  “We haven’t really had choir in two years,” she said. “For some of these students, this was their first-ever concert.“  When asked about her selection of songs, she said, “‘Kookaburra’ is a round that they have all heard before, and is just a fun arrangement to learn.  ‘Banuwa Yo’ is a Liberian piece which tells the story of a caring friend, consoling a girl who is missing her family.”  

To Mrs. Lowry, intermediate school is pivotal to development as a musician.  “This is a very important age,” she said.  “It’s where we set that idea that singing is something we can do for a lifetime.  I just read  last year that singing creates unity in all sorts of ways, and these students really need a sense of belonging after so much isolation.  When you sing together, you breathe together, you shape words together – hearts beat in rhythm.  Choir is so much more than singing!”  

She said her students were full of excitement in class the morning after the concert.  “I had so much fun, watching their faces while the other groups sang.  They noticed everything!  We talked about how the voice changes over time, and how a group goes from two-part singing to as many as six parts.” 

One of Mrs. Lowry’s students, 11- year-old DeAnna Lewis, bubbled with enthusiasm as she spoke.  She started singing in the fourth grade at Powell Elementary and she says it makes her happy.  “I really like singing,” she said.  “It gives me a chance to express myself.”  DeAnna really liked the song, “Kookaburra,” as she sang a version of it before, so it was easy for her to learn.  “Banuwa Yo” appealed to DeAnna for the simplicity and feeling of calm.  On hearing the other groups, she said it was fascinating.  “I loved the soloists.  The music sounded angelic.”  She said she noticed how the older students were able to control their singing so that the pieces sounded smooth and gentle.  “I really want to sing like that,” she said.  “I can’t wait!”

Mitchell Mustang Choir under the direction of Mrs. Cyndie Lowry
Photo Credit: Steve Powell; Mitchell Mustang Choir, under the direction of Mrs. Cyndie Lowry

The 45-member Conroe High School Chorale took the stage next, under the direction of Mr. Evan Key.  The Chorale is comprised of sophomores through seniors who have auditioned for a spot in this flagship group.  Mr. Key chose to begin with “I Believe,” written by Mark Miller.  It opens with, “I believe in the sun, even when it’s not shining.”  Soloists included Morgan Pierce, Maryn West and Nalani Defensor.  Mr. Key then chose the third movement of Triptych, “Consecrate the Place and Day,” by Lloyd Pfautsch.  The younger students watched, amazed, and the audience erupted with applause as the final notes faded. 

Mr. Key said, ”From a young age, I always loved singing. I joined the choir in fourth grade and never looked back. When I experienced the Texas All-State Choir for the first time, I knew I wanted to pursue music! I had amazing teachers that encouraged me all throughout my life, and it was their influence that led me to choose teaching as a career.” 

Mr. Key continued, “Conroe High School has a long history of choral excellence. It’s one of those “destination” schools. Anyone involved in the “choir scene” in the state of Texas has heard of Conroe Choir. It is an honor to be the newest head director of this wonderful school.  When I heard about the concert, “The Future is Here,” I knew immediately I wanted to be a part of it. Our students ARE the future. They are the future of choral music, and of this community and its leadership. We are in the business of making great humans through the vehicle of music!  Choosing the right music is of the utmost importance. It’s also the trickiest part of the job during the Fall. We want to balance picking pieces that push our singers educationally, but are also enjoyable to sing, and enjoyable to hear as an audience member. The pieces also show off the many facets of this specific ensemble: vibrant treble sound, full tenor-bass tone, and incredible soloists from a group of individuals that are extremely diverse!”  


“I loved watching the younger students from Mitchell Intermediate,”Mr. Key continued.  “I was inspired by their passion and complete focus during the concert. They clearly love singing and have been taught by a master teacher. The incredible work being done at Mitchell is evident in how musically they sang and how effortless they made it seem. This performance was truly some of the highest quality! The future is bright in CISD!” 

Mr. Key said, “Watching MCCS was equally inspiring. It showed that you can never age out of making spectacular music of extremely high quality. My favorite was watching the rehearsal of the ensemble. I really got to witness the respect and admiration the members of the ensemble have for each other, their conductor, and the music. Building a sense of community is more than half of the battle when it comes to music-making, and MCCS has this in spades. I really miss singing and rehearsing in an ensemble like this. In singing together, you realize there really is a special connection to each other that transcends the physicality of our existence and MCCS reminded me of this.” 

Ella Schexnayder, one of Mr. Key’s students, said, “I sing because it’s such a beautiful way to express myself, and the process of learning music is so rewarding. I really hope to make a career out of music and want to continue to pursue it in the future. Watching a younger group and an older group performing within moments of each other is really astonishing. Seeing the progression of people’s ability and then maintaining that spark of interest is so inspiring!” 

Another student, Isabelle Ramirez, said,” One primary reason why I sing is the joy it gives me. Learning new pieces of music and hearing it all come together never fails to make me smile. It’s also something that I use as an escape when things get stressful. Because without fail, my day is always significantly better after singing. The environment, the people, and the music we make in choir can in most (if not all) cases lessen my stresses and make my bad days, good. In the end of it all, I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Isabelle said that she hopes to sing throughout college, and then would love to sing with a group like MCCS. She particularly liked singing “I Believe,” and said it’s,”such a beautiful song with such a rich meaning. There are some instances where when singing the song, I start to tear up. Just hearing everything together with the lyrics, the chords, and the solos, made me feel unexplainably emotional.  As I watched the younger group perform, I was reminded of my experiences in intermediate school choir. I reminisced over my growth as a musician and it made me extremely sentimental. In terms of watching the older group, I was reminded of how much growing I still have yet to do. Which in turn led me to think about my possible experiences as an adult still singing in a choir.“

Conroe High School Chorale under the direction of Evan Key
Photo Credit: Steve Powell; Conroe High School Chorale, under the direction of Evan Key

As the Chorale left the stage, Dr. Horton thanked both groups for their excellent performances, and remarked, “The future is clearly here, and we can see that it is in good hands!”  

While Dr. Horton spoke, the 83 members of the Montgomery County Choral Society took the stage for their portion of the concert.  He then took the baton and conducted Daniel Gawthrop’s exciting “Sing a Mighty Song,” commissioned for the American Choral Directors Association.  This set the framework for the following selections, exhorting the listeners to “sing, to make the Earth resound, to let all who have breath give praise.”  Next, Robert Frost’s words in the poem, “The Pasture,” exemplify the rich cultural heritage of America, speaking of a simpler day and time, with an invitation to come away and spend a quiet time together.  The men of MCCS then took center stage for their boisterous shanty, “Do You Fear the Wind?” by Leland Sateren.  The song was drawn from a book about gold mining in the Klondike Valley of Alaska, an activity for only the toughest and bravest men.  Following the men, Dr. Horton chose Craig Hella Johnson’s lyrical and sensitive setting of an Emily Dickinson poem, “Will There Really be a Morning?”  which featured the women of MCCS.  The next song was based on a true story. Dolly Parton dissolved her work relationship in 1974 with Porter Waggoner, a well-known country singer who gave her a chance for stardom.  Both performers struggled with the decision to separate. “Light of a Clear Blue Morning” resulted in 1977, as Ms. Parton finally felt clouds lifting and a new day at hand.  Craig Hella Johnson arranged this piece for the Austin-based a capella group Conspirare.  The MCCS performance featured soloist Giselle Burns and a trio of Andy Horton, Ren Robertson and Lindsey von Holten.  To close the concert, Dr. Horton chose “The Music of Living,” an exuberant piece by Dan Forrest for choir and instrumentalists.  The words implore the Creator of all that is lovely:  “I want to feel the music of living… teach me to sing the words of Your song!”  MCCS was joined by Carlos Lara on violin, Nathan Reeves on French horn and Blakely Norwood on percussion. Craig Stephan, former interim artistic director of MCCS and himself an accomplished pianist, provided accompaniment. 

MCCS under the direction of Dr. Bob Horton
Photo Credit: Steve Powell; MCCS under the direction of Dr. Bob Horton

Dr. Horton said, “I suppose that the main goal (for the concert) was indeed to have multiple generations demonstrate excellence in performance. Another goal was to expand the musical horizons of each group. Specifically, it is hard to know if members of each organization that was represented have ever heard that level and quality of singing demonstrated by the other groups. Knowing those teachers, and the pursuit of excellence we have chosen in MCCS, I was confident that would be the case. Based on the performances from Monday night, I would say that objective was clearly met!

On a much more practical level, I also wanted each group to be able to hear what appropriate programming for age and ability level could be, when done very well. Again, I believe that based on performances, that was evident. 

For the audience, hearing excellence from various ages is always a delight. To expand the footprint and outreach of MCCS, having audience members who are not traditionally our concert goers was also a wonderful addition.”

Dr. Horton encouraged the public to visit the MCCS website for a recording of this concert as well as information about upcoming performances at, or on Facebook @montgomerycountychoralsociety.

In addition, the Mitchell Mustang Choir will be performing in February for the Texas Music Educators’ Association, and will offer a preview concert on February 1, 2022, at 7 pm at Christ Church United Methodist in The Woodlands.  The public is welcome.