On July 4, Americans will be hitting the grounds of Normandy once again. The Covington/Conyers Choral Guild make their European debut at an awe-inspiring venue – the Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, France.
On a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach under the direction of conductor Roger Waters, the chorus will pay vocal tribute to fallen soldiers who helped secure their freedoms. It will be the first of four performances during the 10-day tour arranged by Harmony International.
The group will also have the distinct privilege of singing during mass at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and Southwark and Canterbury Cathedrals – a remarkable line-up for the oldest non-auditioned community chorus in metro Atlanta. Maintaining the Choral Guild is no easy task, said Waters. “It takes years of patience, non-compromising standards and extremely hard work,” he said,” but the credit goes to the singers themselves, who persevere and work diligently to attain the highest goals of the choral performing art."
Carol Brown, an 11-year member and retired Conyers Middle School teacher, said of Waters: “He can get music out of a stone.” Even those not adept at sight-reading or with voices not quite as strong as others are elevated by the group, she said. “(Waters) just doesn’t come in to rehearse, but also teaches…a wonderful thing.”
Member Nancy Isaac, a retired church secretary, concurred. Though convinced she wasn’t good enough after attending a workshop with Waters, with his encouragement, she joined anyhow. “I couldn’t believe I was a part of this…I would stop singing to listen to this incredible music swirling all around me,” she said. Issac traced a family connection with the European front in World War II. Her late husband’s uncle, U.S. Army Private Tayhur, was killed during the D-Day invasion. She hopes to find his grave site while there.
At 84-years-young, the Choral Guild’s oldest member Bob Lange is also making the journey. Lange was in the Navy during WWII but dodged a bullet, figuratively. He graduated boot camp the day Japan surrendered. Other than visiting the American Cemetery, Lange most anticipates “seeing London and Paris again… how they’ve changed and if the people are still as friendly.” His last trip there was 20 years ago with his wife. This time his daughter, Cathy Carlisle, also a CCCG member, will be traveling with him.
From a surgeon to many retired teachers to high school students, the 75-100 members of CCCG members hail from many walks of life and vocal experience. Of the 40-odd singers able to make the voyage, Sarah Gardner, Faith Academy graduate, is the youngest at 18. It will be her first European excursion. “At times we forget what we’re singing about, but being in those places and hearing the beauty of the music combined with the inspirational words will be amazing,” she said, “I'm prepared to shed a tear.”
Besides singing selections from their recent spring patriotic concert – among them Mozart’s “Ave Verum” and Beethoven’s “Hallelujah” – they’ve added three songs from Texas composer Joseph Martin which will be sung jointly with his choir. Among Martin’s contributions will be “A Prayer for Our Time.”
Brown said she was initially a bit nervous how they would sound with only half the choir travelling to Europe, due to the expense, but after many rehearsals is happy to report the music is “top-drawer.”