As many of you already know, the Magnolia Chorale had its beginning back in the fall of 1989 as the offspring from the Episcopal Church of the Ascension’s ecumenical choir’s 10th anniversary presentation of A Celebration of Hope. But how did this all come about?
Celebration was written in 1972 by gospel lyricist Paul Johnson with music by Otis Skillings. In 1975, with the coming of the Reverend Fred McLauchlan to Ascension, and Mary Ellen Bahlkow’s appointment as Ascension’s choir director in 1978, the decision was made to perform the work. Celebration was, and is, a joyful choral work paraphrasing scripture in celebrating creation, salvation and hope. Celebration required more voices than Ascension’s choir could muster, so a movement was begun to recruit more voices from Magnolia’s church community. So it was that, in June 1979, with 40 voices and a recorded accompaniment, Mary Ellen directed two sold-out performances of Celebration.
Ten years later the call went out again, and once again Mary Ellen was at the helm, this time with live accompaniment. After the 1989 reprise, many of the participants were disappointed that this wonderful experience of making music together had come to an end. Believing that, indeed, the seed of something special had been planted, Pat Gaffney (Ascension), Don Austin (Magnolia United Church of Christ and the Chorale’s first music director) and Carolyn Harris (Magnolia Lutheran) began the movement which has evolved into the Magnolia Chorale of today, and whose 25th anniversary we are celebrating this year.