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Scroll to read weekly notes from director, Finley Woolston

--Most recent notes are at the top--

March 16 Director's Message -



Greetings to all the wonderful friends, supporters and family of singers that is the Crystal Coast Choral Society.  Like you and the rest of the world we have been struggling with an appropriate response to the continuing Corona virus pandemic.  All of us are in uncharted territory.  We’re trying to sight-read an unfamiliar score written in an unfamiliar language.  Some things will become clear as time goes on, and some are clear now.


We’ve cancelled all rehearsals effective immediately.  The April 26th concert date is also cancelled.  However, the good news is that the performance of the complete Handel’s Messiah has been re-scheduled to 2:00 p.m., Sunday, November 22nd, 2020.  The location will still be the Earl Taylor Performing Arts Center, White Oak High School, Jacksonville.  Having the concert the weekend before Thanksgiving will be a wonderful way for all of us to open the holiday season and we do hope you will be able to join us.


We’ll start rehearsals on the first Tuesday after Labor Day, September 8th, 2020, 7:00-9:00 p.m. in the Fellowship Hall of Swansboro United Methodist Church.  We’ll be welcoming all the folks who had been preparing for the April 26th concert.  We also extend a cordial invitation to any new singers who would like to be a part of what promises to be a spectacular performance of Handel’s immortal Messiah.  


Thank you for your patience, understanding and continuing support of the Crystal Coast Choral Society.  Have a safe and healthy summer and join us November 22nd.


In Harmony,



March 10 Director's Notes -

Hello to the best community chorus ever!  We had another wonderful rehearsal Tuesday and I thank you for your hard work.  I found it very interesting, but not surprising, that I started the rehearsal exhausted and sitting in the rocker.  Once I heard your voices singing together I just couldn’t stay seated and felt the energy in the room.  When we finished I was a bit tired, but in a pleasant way, and was able to drive home with no problems.  The power of music! J  


So, with the exception of #44 “Hallelujah”, we’ve worked on everything in Part 2 and 3.  Not everything is concert ready, but we have a solid start.  #41, “Let Us Break Their Bonds” is the weakest from Part 2 but we’ll work on that at the next rehearsal.


I’m one week behind in my rehearsal schedule, but am confident we can make that up with lots of individual practice between rehearsals.


Here’s what to expect and prepare for the March 17th rehearsal:


  1.  #41, “Let Us Break Their Bonds”.  Please spend a lot of quality time here.  It’s a challenging chorus (!) that needs lots of individual practice.


  1.   #4, “And the Glory of the Lord”. Handel gives the first entrance of the chorus in Messiah to the altos, which I think is pretty cool.  This is not an easy chorus, but it’s certainly not overly difficult.  Please have your part well prepared before rehearsal.


  1.  #7, “And He Shall Purify”.  Another not overly difficult but challenging chorus.  The 1/16thnote melisma’s are not has hard as they first seem.  In general the first note of each group of four 1/16th notes forms a simple scale.  Once you realize that filling in the other notes is fairly easy.  Please take a few minutes to circle each one of those 1/16th notes so you can visually see the scale degrees.  As with #4, please have your part well prepared before rehearsal.


  1.  #53, “Amen” from “Worthy is the Lamb.”  This will be as time permits and depending on how it goes with the other choruses.


I’ll leave you with another anecdote about Handel, and this one is true.  Remember, Handel spoke English with a heavy German accent.   


“As with everything about Handel his appetite was gigantic.  One day he walked into an eating place, sat down at a table and ordered sixteen different courses:  soups, fish dishes, roasts, poultry, desserts, pancakes, cheese, and with it beer, wine and liquors.  The waiter took the order, elaborately laid the table, and waited.  ‘Vat are you vaiting for?’ the composer inquired. ‘For the company, sir.”  ‘Gompany?” roared Handel.  ‘Come on and pring ze food- presto, prestissimo!  I am ze gompany!’”  (From Lives of the Great Composers by Bernard Grun)


See you Tuesday…


In Harmony,




Good evening to the most wonderful chorus ever.  In the “2020 Requested Changes and Additions to Watkins Shaw/Novello Vocal Score”, under #53, “Worthy is the Lamb” and the “Amen” portion, I asked that the accent marks be removed from the following measures:  Soprano, ms 103; Alto, ms 89; Tenor ms 84&88; Bass ms 78,79 & 83.  I’ve been doing some additional study and research and realized I was in error.  To be more accurate my previous authorities were wrong.


I found a facsimile copy of Handel’s original score; those accent marks are definitely there!  Not only that but two other authorities insist they are correct.  


So, gentle and patient singer, if you’ve already marked them out on your score, please put them back in as printed.


Now here’s the really interesting part.  The marks (little wedges)do not indicate what we would call a staccato attack. Handel meant it to show a “slight separation” between the notes.  


Sorry if you already practiced and have the incorrect way in your muscle memory, but it will be an easy fix at Tuesday rehearsal.


Of all the uncountable times I’ve sung Messiah, prepared Messiah, conducted Messiah, studied Messiah, etc., this is a reminder that there’s always something I miss or something new to be discovered.  Such is the joy of great music. J




February 24 Director's Notes -

Here it is on a Tuesday night and we don’t have rehearsal!  What to do I do with the time?  Well, I must be honest and tell you my wife and I watched Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy from 7:00-8:00.  This is quite frankly the only television I watch.


Then I couldn’t take it any longer and silently conducted Messiah movements #37, #39 and #53.  You were wonderful!  Then I did #41, “Let Us Break Their Bonds Asunder.”  We need a little more work on that one, although the tenor and soprano entrances were spot on.  Sometimes I’m amazed by what goes on in my mind. J  


Please know how much I appreciate the time and effort you spend on daily individual practice.  It shows in weekly rehearsals.  We’ll soon be leaving playing individual voice lines during rehearsals and moving much more to the accompaniment.  Sometimes that’s a help and sometimes not so much.  It’s important that the vocal lines be very secure on their own.


I’ll leave you with a paraphrased quote from the well-known composer Joseph Martin.  Many of you in church choirs have probably sung his music.  I had the honor of singing a Carnegie Hall gig under his direction a couple of years ago and he’s now a pretty good friend.  This is what he said, slightly modified, to one of his choruses before a concert:


" No matter where we come from, who we vote for, or the dollar amount in our bank account, we will be breathing together and singing as one chorus; isn't that amazing? The borders and divisions we see on a daily basis will melt away and we will use those differences to create beautiful harmonies. That is an amazing phenomenon by which I hope to never stop being surprised.” 


Amen,  Brother Joe.


Looking forward to Tuesday rehearsal; I can hardly wait to hear your voices once again.


In Harmony,



February 18 Director's Notes -

Well, we had another stellar rehearsal with a lot of good work being accomplished.  We’re doing very challenging music and I’m very proud of you all for great progress.  I was especially pleased with the wonderful rehearsal discipline and attentive silences.  Of course, and as always, there was also the good humor and fellowship which makes this chorus so special.


We spent most of the time on #33, “Lift Up Your Heads, O Ye Gates” and worked out many of the difficult parts.  We also worked on #28, “He Trusted in God” and got a good start on #37, “The Lord Gave the Word.”  


We now have another Tuesday, February 25th, off.  That means we have two weeks of daily individual practice to prepare for our next meeting on Tuesday, March 3rd.  Here’s where I’d like you to concentrate:


  1.  #33 “Lift Up Your Heads, O Ye Gates”:  ms 1-32 are in good shape.  Work on solidly learning your own line from ms 33-end.  Please include counting your rests and entering on time.  Also… practice pronouncing “glory” correctly: GLOW-rih with no “ee” sound and minimal “r” sound.  


  1.  #28, “He Trusted in God”:  As I mentioned at rehearsal, please go through your part to note and be aware of the accidentals, especially the A/A flat and E/E flat areas.  Study the score and notice how your part fits with the others.  Work on having your line firmly learned.


  1. #37, “The Lord Gave the Word”:  This is a short movement that is a bit of a challenge.  Work especially on the 1/16th note melisma’s at a slow tempo until they are secure in pitch and rhythm.  


At the March 3rd rehearsal we’ll review all three of these movements fairly quickly, hopefully without having to pound individual notes and phrases.  That means you’ll need to be fully prepared.


After we review #33, #28 and #37, we’ll work on #39, “There Sound Has Gone Out”, #41 “Let Us Break Their Bonds Asunder” and the final “Amen” #53 “Worthy is the Lamb That Was Slain.”


I know this seems like a lot things to prepare, but we do have two weeks of individual practice.  I would very much like to have things ready for rehearsal and not need extensive learning of notes.


This is the most ambitious project we’ve ever done and the music deserves our very best efforts.  I know you’re all working diligently and I greatly appreciate it.


I’ll leave you with a quote about Handel that if not true certainly should be: 


“While rehearsing his opera Flavio, Handel, accompanying the singers upon the harpsichord, fell afoul of the tenor, who objected to the composer’s playing. ‘If you don’t follow me better than that,’ he grumbled, ‘I’ll jump on your harpsichord and smash it up.’  ‘Go right ahead,’ retorted Handel, ‘only please let me know when and I will advertise it, for more people will come to see you jump than to hear you sing.’”  (The Farber Book of Anecdotes, ed. Clifton Fadiman)


Ain’t music fun? J  


In Harmony,



February 11 Director's Notes -

My apologies for taking so long to get this email out to everyone.  I did a 4 hour chemotherapy drip infusion Wednesday and then started the at home chemo pills today.  I’ve been feeling a bit under the weather (!) for a couple of days.  But now I’m just ignoring the medical stuff and getting back to work. J  


Thanks to everyone for an absolutely wonderful ice cream social and birthday party.  I loved the little rubber chickens (thanks Deanna).  The crack from someone about you could hear me take a breath when I blew out the candles was seriously cool and funny.  It was also great to have Jeff Clark from MFCU be there to present the $10,000 check to support our Messiah concert.  Quite honestly, without Jeff and MFCU I don’t think we would have been able to financially do the concert.


Now then, to the actual rehearsal.  There were some significant challenges.  As always, when things go well it’s on you the singers.  When things are a bit off it’s my fault and responsibility, and that’s certainly true from Tuesday.  Today I’ve been doing extensive additional score study and revisions of #33, “Lift Up Your Heads, O Ye Gates.”  I’m making sure that what you and I have in our scores is the same and matches what I gave to Terri months ago.  This is another area where I must issue a mea culpa and point out that Terri is doing her normal wonderful job in spite of me.


So, upward and onward for February 18th.  We’ll spend a great deal of the rehearsal on #33 and get that under better control.  We’ll  also work on #28 “He Trusted in God” and #37 “The Lord Gave the Word.”  After that we have only #41 “Let Us Break Their Bonds” to finish part II.  I’m leaving #44 “Hallelujah” out of that because it’s well known enough we can spend time on the other choruses.


Before I forget, I did notice with great appreciation the improved rehearsal discipline and much less extraneous talking.  J  


In Harmony,



Alto Addendum to February 4 Rehearsal Notes -

This information is for our wonderful altos.  Frances Sutton, in preparation for the February 11th rehearsal (bless her heart! J) pointed out that there is alto 1/2 divisi and asked what should she practice.  I had planned on covering this at the rehearsal, but really should have done it before ending the February 4threhearsal.  Here’s the plan so everyone can be prepared:


I forget which rehearsal it was, but we had the altos count off 1-2, so everyone is either a number 1 or 2.  

Altos with number 2 are shown as 2nd alto/A2 on the score. They sing only ms 5-18 and ms 26-29

Altos with number 1  are shown as  1st alto on the score.  They sing only ms 19-26 and ms 29-30

From ms 31 to the end 1st and 2nd alto join as one and continue to the end.


If you’re not sure what number you are please become familiar with both parts and we’ll make assignments at the February 11th rehearsal.



February 4 Rehearsal Notes -

Well, we had another wonderful rehearsal last night.  We did good work on #24 Surely He Hath Born Our Griefs; #25 And With His Stripes; and #26, All We Like Sheep.  We got a short start on #28, He Trusted In God, but not as much as I had planned.  We’ll add it to the schedule for next Tuesday.  Here’s what to expect for January 11th:  


#28, He Trusted in God; #33 Lift Up Your Heads; #37 The Lord Gave the Word.


A few gentle reminders on rehearsal etiquette:   


  1.  Please don’t use any type of perfume or body scent.  Many folks, including me, are allergic to such things.  It’s very difficult to sit next to such a person and try to sing through an allergic reaction.


  1.  I would greatly appreciate it if everyone would remember to  refrain from unnecessary talking during a rehearsal, especially when I’m speaking or working with a particular section.  It really is disrespectful to your fellow singers and to the music.  It also makes it much more challenging for me to teach what I need to teach.  We have plenty of time before and after rehearsal, as well as the break, to chat.  We need to be a very disciplined chorus, especially to prepare and perform music of this caliber to our very high standard. 


  1. We are a chorus of individuals that needs to blend into one harmonious choral voice.  That means that no one voice should stand out from the others.  Remember, choral singing is 10% singing and 90% listening and blending your voice with everyone else.  The percentage may be off, but I’m sure you get the idea.


Thank you for your talent, musicianship and friendship.  The highlight of my week is always the honor of standing in front of you and hearing the marvelous music we make together.


See you next Tuesday.


In Harmony,



January 21 Rehearsal Notes -

Well, we had another spectacular rehearsal on the 21st.  The sound is wonderful, the blend is starting to come together, and a lot of music was learned.  Thank you all for your time, talent, musicianship and friendship.  


As a reminder for those who couldn’t be there, here’s what we covered:  #53, #7, #22.


Remember, Tuesday January 28th is a day off and no rehearsal.  Looking ahead to February 4th and 11th, here’s what I plan on covering:


February 4th:  #24, #25, #26, #28   These are fairly short choruses but have interesting challenges.


February 11th:  Review #28, #33, #37, #39  Not so short, but still wonderfully challenging.


You’ll notice that all these choruses are from part II, which is the section many haven’t done in the past.  I confident that with the caliber of our singers the choruses in Part I and III  will come together quickly.


So we have two weeks for individual practice to prepare for our next two Tuesday rehearsals.  I greatly appreciate your hard work outside of regular rehearsals.


I heard a few comments concerning our newly revamped website that make me think some guidance might be helpful.  Our Webmaster prepared a short tutorial that is attached.


Please enjoy the next two weeks, and until February 4th, I remain…


In harmony,



January 14 Rehearsal Notes -

Hello, one and all.  We had another hard working, but enjoyable, productive rehearsal January 14th.  Thanks to those who were there, and a “we missed you” to those who couldn’t attend.  This email is to let you known what we covered and what to expect for January 21st.


Thanks again to the wonder Deb Pylypiw our website will now include information about previous rehearsals and what’s on the bill for upcoming rehearsals.  I’ll also be sending out these emails with the same information.


On January 14th we worked on #53 from the beginning to ms 71.  We also looked at #4, especially ms 106 to the end.  A lot of time was spent on #22 with great results.  It came together quicker than I had hoped.  


For January 21st we’ll continue learning #53, especially ms 71 to the end.  We’ll also review #22.  We’ll work on #4 and then get into #7


As I mentioned in an earlier email, January 28th is a non-rehearsal date.  I’ll let you know what to expect for February 4th and beyond after the January 21st rehearsal.


In Harmony,



January 7 Rehearsal Notes -

Warmest greetings to the most wonderful group of singers ever!  I’m finally getting around to responding to our absolutely stellar first Messiah rehearsal.  It was great to see all the returning folks, and especially gratifying to welcome the new members as well. And the sound we made together was marvelous.  There’s always room for improvement, of course, but it really was gratifying for a first rehearsal.


I meant to let you know before we left what we’ll be working on next week but just forgot.  I know it will be a big help in your private practice before rehearsals.  Here are my plans for January 14th and 21st: 


January 14th: (1)  #53 review ms 1-39; ms 40-71 (2) review and complete #4 (3)  #22


January 21st:  (1) Review #22  (2) #53 ms 72 to end  (3) #7


January 28th is a free Tuesday, so I’ll publish my plans for February 4th based on what I hear January 14th and 21st.


Great things are going on with our website,  Among other things, and thanks to Deb Pylypiw and others, you can now find the following: (1) requested changes and additions to the Watkins Shaw/Novello SATB score; (2) mp3 audio files for most of part 2; (3) the updated general information document for Messiah 2020.  If you are one of the singers planning on joining us for the Saturday rehearsals please be sure to download the changes and additions as well as the general information document.


Because of some serious computer problems I’ve had to re-make the voice specific SATB .mp3 files for part 1 and 3.  I should have them done and on the website before the January 14th rehearsal.  I’ll also bring CD copies of everything to that rehearsal.


Those same serious computer problems also mean that I have to send these joint emails in three different groups; that’s why the title line to this group reads “GROUP C.” 


Thanks again for a great first rehearsal, and I look forward to many more Tuesdays as we learn Messiah together.


In Harmony,



Web tutorial

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