MOS 25th Anniversary Gala

The Michael O’Neal Singers organization is currently celebrating its 25th Anniversary Season. This past Saturday we had a special Gala evening that included speakers representing the entire quarter century of our existence. I was honored to be allowed to be the final speaker. Here is what I said:

First, I would like to thank you for being part of this very special evening. The milestone we are celebrating has been a shared journey by all of us and I am honored by your presence.

A little over a quarter-century ago I was facing a career crisis. The university at which I had taught for nearly a decade, Mercer University, had decided to close its Atlanta campus and I quickly discovered that tenure doesn’t really mean that much when your school ceases to exist. The normal approach to take when something like this happens is to begin a search for another university position, but my wife, Judy, held a very responsible position as Coordinator of Mathematics for Gwinnett County, and I was serving as part-time Director of Music at the First Presbyterian Church of Gainesville, where I led a choir for which I felt enormous affection. In addition to those two reasons, there were other important considerations that contributed to our decision to stay in the Atlanta area.

It was in the midst of considering how to “recreate” my career that I decided to form a non-profit community chorus. With a core of singers from my recently disbanded Mercer Atlanta Community Singers, my church choir in Gainesville, and new auditioned voices added from the metro area, The Michael O’Neal Singers began its existence in 1989. At that time, I’m not sure whether any of us realized MOS would still be making music 25 years later. But with around 70 enthusiastic singers, a small, but highly motivated, board of directors, and a staff consisting of a pianist and me, we began preparing and performing choral concerts which we hoped would enrich our communities of Decatur and Gainesville.

The first few years of MOS were exciting and rewarding, but it was in 1992 that something happened which would have a lasting effect on the history of MOS. As I’ve already mentioned, I was serving as the Director of Music at the First Presbyterian Church of Gainesville, but I was also teaching private voice, arranging concerts in Europe for American choral groups, as well as working diligently to make MOS the best chorus it could be. Well, it was in that year of 1992 that Roswell United Methodist Church invited me to come and serve as its Director of Music. Leaving Gainesville First Presbyterian was an enormously difficult decision for me, but it gradually became clear that for my own musical growth and that of MOS, this was the right decision. It was right for many reasons, not the least of which is that Roswell UMC has become such an important and rewarding part of my life, but also because Roswell UMC became the home base for MOS, offering rehearsal and performance space, and ultimately, even office space. The expanded responsibilities that awaited me in a church of 7,500 members required that I end my voice teaching and European concert arrangements, but at least I was now able to concentrate on just TWO full time positions!

During our 25 years of existence, MOS has always been fortunate to have passionate and talented singers, hardworking and committed staff, and supportive and visionary board members. MOS has performed for thousands upon thousands of people through the years in over 200 separate concert programs. In addition to our regular season performances, we have sung in some of the great cathedrals of Europe, on the stages of Dublin’s National Concert Hall and New York City’s Carnegie Hall, at the Amalfi Coast Music Festival in Italy, and in several appearances with the Atlanta Ballet. We have worked with guest conductors Moses Hogan, Alice Parker, and Mack Wilberg. We have collaborated with some of Atlanta’s finest vocal soloists, instrumental musicians, and performing ensembles. We have presented the requiems of Mozart, Durufle, Faure, Brahms, Rutter, and Webber (do you think I like requiems?). We have sung Vaughan Williams’ Hodie, Bach’s B Minor Mass, Rachmaninoff’s Vespers, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, and Haydn’s The Creation, just to name a few of the choral masterpieces in our repertoire. We’ve sung songs from around the world, as well as from our own Southern musical heritage. We’ve performed the music of Broadway and the movies, the Great American Songbook, and even presented a Beatles tribute concert with one of the best Beatles tribute bands performing today.

We’ve continued to evolve and grow as a choral organization and have added three annual events in the past decade: our community Messiah Sing-Along; our Hear the Future concert, featuring outstanding high school and college choruses; and our ever popular Summer Singers program, drawing around 175 participants each summer. Kaleidoscope, the newest addition to the MOS family, performs music ranging from Renaissance motets to vocal jazz, and receives accolades for its artistry and creative programming. Always, we have sought to present programs designed to enrich the quality of life in our community through music that engages the audience, challenges the singers, and is rewarding for all.

Each day I am reminded how very fortunate I am. I am able to make music with wonderfully talented people, who grant me the privilege of leading them to musical heights we could never achieve as individuals. In choral music, the whole is most certainly greater than the sum of its parts, and I fully recognize that I am only one of the many parts that constitute The Michael O’Neal Singers. As each year passes, I become more convinced that anything worthwhile I may have accomplished in music and in life has been done with the help of others. To all the past and present singers, staff, and board members of MOS I am eternally grateful. And for Judy, my wife and best friend, I offer heartfelt thanks and appreciation for her constant support, understanding, and encouragement. I can’t imagine the journey without her.

As most of you know, the late Robert Shaw had an enormous influence on my musical development. I was continually in awe of both his great musical vision and his ability to express his thoughts so eloquently. I remember his response to a New York City reporter as to why he had decided to make his career in Atlanta, rather than a place such as New York. He said that he had chosen to focus his attention on the nurture and growth of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in his “yard of space and inch of time.” Those words, so poetic, have found a place in my heart ever since, and I am enormously grateful to all of you for allowing me the privilege of serving MOS in my “yard of space and inch of time.” Thank you for twenty-five years of extraordinary memories, and for offering the expectation of new memories in the years to come. I am blessed beyond measure because of you.

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