By Brandon Martin
The Smith River Singers (SRS) will combine the holidays and music at their Carols and Cheer! The Christmas Concert will be held at 7 p.m. on Dec. 9 in the Galilean House of Worship.
Formed in 2014 by conductor Dr. Pamela Randall, the group is made up of passionate, committed and non-auditioned singers from the Martinsville-Henry County area.
“Officially our mission is to enrich the cultural life of our community through the pursuit of artistic excellence in choral music performance,” Randall explained. “Our purpose is to bring a diverse group of people from our community together to enjoy the art of choral singing and to then share that experience with our audience.”
Randall said that anyone who can match pitch, regardless of their ability to read music, is welcome to join the full choir.
For some in the group, the importance of music is embodied in the community that came together to make it.
“We know through science that music and the arts are good for mind, body and soul,” said Andrew Lyford, a tenor in the choir. “When we combine these things with other people, making something work that’s beautiful as one, there is nothing like it. It’s like being part of a band but singing is even more special, using our voices as instruments.”
Others in the choir use music as a way to connect with their past.
“Music has been the fondest of my memories,” recalled Jeff Stegall, a bass in the group. “My mom introduced me to music at a very early age and encouraged both my music and supported music in the community. As I think about it, I cannot remember a time when she was not in our church choir along with performing solos or participating in a community choir of some description. I have always felt that she was teaching me to give back a part of what I was given.”
While the members are quick to express how much they love being in the choir, Dr. Randall expressed how fortunate she feels getting to lead them.
“I am a career educator,” she said. “My professional life is filled with teaching and learning with college students who will one day take over their own classrooms, and just like them, I am moved by the experience of bringing a diverse group of ‘students,’ in this case singers, together and sharing in the joy of making music.”
It’s clear that Randall’s “students” have a special fondness for her as well.
“Our director, Dr. Pamela Randall, has a gift of bringing the best out of you,” said Mary Ann McConnell, a soprano. “It is as though you have a free voice lesson every week as she works on the technique of singing as well as bringing out the passion which gets into the depths of our souls.”
For her part, Randall sees the act of conducting as a unifying experience.
“Singing, in particular, is a very personal act; and yet, when we sing together, we create a unique bond that crosses race, ethnicity, age and gender,” she expressed. “We lean on those who may have a bit more experience or knowledge but ultimately, the choir is an amalgamation of many different and unique voices.”
Some in SRS view the experience as being part of a big team; “It certainly gives me the sense of being a part of something bigger than myself,” Stegall said. “It’s something I could not accomplish on my own and an understanding everyone has something to contribute.”
Others view it in a more personal light; “Smith River Singers was birthed to make music in the community for the community,” McConnell said. “It too is special because of the wonderful people who are in it. It is a family.”
And still for others, singing in the choir provides something a little bigger.
“Being part of anything like this in your community improves your life in many ways,” Lyford said. “Yes, you make friends, contacts and network but more importantly you are part of a living entity that creates something beautiful using your body as an instrument! The connection you feel to the choir members and the audience in concerts is a feeling like no other. Studies have shown that heartbeats will start to sync when people sing together. I believe it.”
Randall said the community has been vital to the group from its inception. She said that the First Baptist Church in Martinsville provided rehearsal and library space. The Galilean House of Worship provided a performance venue, and countless organizations—among them Piedmont Arts and the Harvest Foundation — have supported the group financially and enabled them to grow their community.
Randall is inspired to keep going because she finds it a healing art.
“In our crazy busy society, adult singers come to choir for a wide variety of reasons. Some musical, some social, some for the chance to relive earlier school experiences,” she explained. “We often bring problems of our daily life to the rehearsal: fear, grief, worry, stress. I, as the conductor, am driven to find music that is challenging enough to keep them engaged and meaningful enough to touch their hearts while providing them time and space to set aside their burdens. As a result, the music is magical, both for them and me. Creating this magic is the reason we sing.”
The full SRS choir generally performs two or three concerts per rehearsal year, which runs from August to May. A select group of auditioned members, called Still Water, performs between six and eight times each year.
Those that are moved by the community, involved with either the holidays or music, and others are encouraged to attend the Dec. 9 concert. The group will be accompanied by singers Jill Bowen Gardner and Jake Gardner. Admission is free but donations are accepted.
For those interested in joining the SRS, applications can be found on the group’s website at www.smithriversingers.org/JoinUs.html.