ARMA — An annual Christmas Cantata has led to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
On Dec. 2, 2018 the Arma Community Choir hosted its annual Christmas cantata. The choir presented “Christmas Presence,” by Pepper Choplin. The piece tells a Christmas story about bringing “hope, peace and love to a world in need,” Choir Conductor Michael Doue said at the time.
The Morning Sun previewed the event and followed up with and photographs and a video which were shared online and in print for all to see — and boy, were they seen.
Little did the group know that Distinguished Concerts International New York program developer Justin Zang was seeking choirs across the United States to sing in Pepper Choplin’s “Heaven’s Child” in the DCINY Concert Series in New York City.
“This guy, Justin Zank, from Distinguished Concerts International New York,” Arma Community Choir Conductor Michael Doue said. “He said they were looking for others who sang “Christmas Presence” by Pepper Choplin. An article popped up and we were there.
“He sent an email, saying congrats on your successful performance, on Pepper Choplin’s ‘Christmas Presence.’”
Doue emailed him back and “within 5 minutes the phone was ringing in the office,” he said.
It was Zang.
The group sent in an official audition recording which DCINY Artistic Director and Principal Conductor Jonathan Griffith reviewed.
According to a release, the invitation was extended to the Arma Community Choir, “because of the quality and high level of musicianship demonstrated by the singers as well as the quality of their audition recording,” Griffith said. “It is quite an honor just to be invited to perform in New York.
“These wonderful musicians not only represent a high quality of music and education, but they also become ambassadors for the entire community. This is an event of extreme pride for everybody and deserving of the community’s recognition and support.”
Exactly one year later, on Dec. 2, 2019, choir members will be part of a 250 person choir performing the Christmas cantata “Heaven’s Child” by Choplin. It will take place in Isaac Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall under the baton of Choplin.
The Arma choir will still have their annual cantata in December, it will be on the second weekend of that month rather than the first.
“These outstanding musicians will join with other choristers to form the Distinguished Concerts Singers International, a choir of distinction,” a release from DCINY said. “Composer, Pepper Choplin will serve as conductor of the performance and clinician for the residency.”
“For our small community to be recognized in this way, to me, is truly remarkable and a blessing,” Doue said.
The production brings people of all ages from various parts of the world.
“One thing I love most is the diversity in age and heritage and countries that we have people get involved with in these concerts.” Zang, of DCINY Program Development said.
Among the first to turn in her ticket to go was choir member, Juanita Phillips, who is 91.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to experience where we are going to have it,” she said. “It’s going to be an exciting time.”
Phillips been in choir groups since she was a child, but singing at Carnegie Hall was something which never crossed her mind, she said.
“I think it’s a great compliment to Mike and the sound we had produced when they taped it,” Phillips said. “To sing with the composer who made it, that's a thrill.”
Among several others, choir members Alan and Linda Roberts plan to sing at the concert.
“I think we were all completely shocked at such an invitation,” Linda Roberts said. “We feel really honored to be part of a group to perform in Carnegie hall.”
Alan Roberts agreed and said, “I think everybody who is planning to go is super excited it’s kind of a once in a lifetime opportunity,” he said. “We are all looking forward to experience singing there and being in Carnegie Hall, it’s very exciting.”
Alan Roberts, who has been in the choir since the late 70s, said the choir has grown over the years. What began as an United Methodist Church and St. Joseph Catholic Church cantata turned into a community-wide group. In the Arma cantata, there were 34 choir members and 10 musicians. The group is made up of professional and amateur musicians.
“The most important part for the choir members is that we will learn so much about presenting his [Choplin’s] works,” Linda Roberts said.
“He just writes music that is easily relatable to and to be able to meet that person, we really appreciate what he is doing and he’s had an influence on our cantatas and our community,” he said. “It’s a neat thing to be able to say I met that guy, I know that guy.”
Zang also recognized the choir’s efforts to help out the Arma community. The choir not only comes together to entertain, but also for a cause. Free will donations are collected to create Christmas baskets for 40 families in need.
“I told him we buy them canned hams and he was like ‘why?,” Doue said. “Because some of them do not have refrigerators and stoves to cook with.”
The children and their families are selected through school counselors. The donations are used to purchase food, toiletries, clothing items, toothbrushes, toothpaste, socks, gloves and more for the families. Each child also receives clothing.
“I feel like that’s such a wonderful use of their talent, so many groups, we try to get as much as we can to preform and to provide community with art and with this performance we give to people to entertain and bring communities together,” Zang said. “It’s amazing this group takes it a step further and really does the concerts to help their community. I find that to be very special.”
Members of the community are encouraged to give financial support in sending these singers to New York by contacting Michael Doue via email at email@example.com.
“We love to get the community involved to making this possible for these talented musicians,” Zang said.
For more information on tickets, group sales or other special offers people can call 212-707-8566 Ext. 307, or BoxOffice@DCINY.org.
About Pepper Choplin
Choplin is a full-time composer, conductor and humorist. Choplin has gained a reputation as one of the most creative writers in church music today. Beginning his music training at the age of four, he grew up singing and playing piano, trumpet, guitar and banjo.
He received a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, he went on to earn a Master of Music degree in composition from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. With a diverse musical background, Choplin incorporates varied styles such as folk, Gospel, classical, and jazz in his compositions.
His published work includes over 250 anthems for church and school choir, 16 church cantatas and a book of piano arrangements. Over 100 groups have commissioned him to write original works for them.
An original hymn, "Come to the Water" appears in the recent hymnal, Celebrating Grace. His anthems consistently appear in the top seller lists of publishers and distributors.
Since 1991, his choral music has sold several million copies. Each week, thousands of singers present his music in churches and schools in the United States and around the world.
In 2013, he made his Carnegie Hall debut in a joint concert with Joseph Martin. In 2015, Choplin traveled to Lincoln Center where he will conducted his new cantata, “Our Father,” based on the “Lord’s Prayer.”
He also visits many churches and conferences to conduct and to entertain. Beyond his choral music, Choplin has produced two humorous CDs and an inspirational recording. In his solo concerts, he moves audiences with his powerful ballads and his hilarious humor. DCINY Productions Founded by Iris Derke and Jonathan Griffith, Distinguished Concerts
— Stephanie Potter is a staff writer at the Morning Sun. She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @PittStephP and Instagram @stephanie_morningsun.