Retired Urbana choral teacher to direct Gibson City show

Retired Urbana choral teacher to direct Gibson City show

GIBSON CITY – Music educator and director Willie T. Summerville of Urbana tried to urge a more dramatic sound from his group of singers Sunday.

"You're telling a story and you've got to keep the people interested," Summerville told them. "Give me that trillion-dollar sound again."

During rehearsal for an upcoming production of "The Messiah," Summerville used his energetic baton and quiet exhortations to compel the best sound from the approximately 40 singers present.

Summerville will be directing this coming Sunday's performance of "The Messiah" in Gibson City.

Summerville may be best known as a much-honored 35-year choral music teacher with the Urbana school district.

He retired from that position in 2005 and is now an adjunct professor at both the University of Illinois and Parkland College. He has held clinics for numerous organizations on national and international levels and has directed approximately 30 performances of "The Messiah."

"It never gets old," Summerville said following Sunday's final rehearsal.

Singers from Gibson City and a dozen other area communities will present the two-hour concert at 3 p.m. on April 1 at the Gibson City Bible Church's recently constructed facility in Gibson City.

Gibson City Mayor Dan Dickey said he plans to provide Summerville with an honorary tribute from the town.

During the recent rehearsal, Summerville also drew on his music education background and strong sense of humor while directing the group.

When asking for even entrances from all four sections of the group, Summerville told them, "Remember, a car drives evenly on all four of its tires."

Interested area singers have been coming together since 1944 to perform the work by German composer George Frideric Handel.

For the first 30 years, the concert was an annual event during the Christmas season. In 1973, it changed to an every-other year event, according to Jack Kollross of Gibson City, treasurer for current sponsor Gibson City Music Club. The concert is now performed during Easter season.

Prior to 1973, sponsors included the Gibson City Lions Club, Gibson City Woman's Club and Gibson Area Ministerial Association, according to Marilyn Shields of Foosland. Shields said that she and Bette Main of Gibson City are two residents who have been part of every performance since 1944, when they were high school students.

Current participants Connie Brown of Gibson City and retired physician Paul Sunderland of rural Mahomet have been involved in the productions since they first came to the area in 1946.

Area musicians also participate. Bill Ogg of Gibson City will be this year's accompanist, and Dell Banner of Foosland will play trumpet. An experienced string quartet from the Champaign-Urbana area will add musical interest to the event. Shields and former Gibson City resident Lucille McKinney are two longtime pianists for the performance.

Shields regrets that age now keeps her from playing the challenging score, but she remains a member of the chorus.

Current members of the chorus range in age from 17 to 88.

Area residents who will perform vocal solos during the performance are Allison Arends of Melvin, Leora Shields Chambers of Mansfield, Larry Knox of Dewey, Joy Moore of Saybrook, April Nettleton of Gibson City, Rick Rhodes of Monticello and Gail Swanson of Indianapolis.

The soloists all are well-recognized for their vocal talents. "The Messiah" has been acknowledged as Handel's best-known work, and its famous "Hallelujah Chorus" will be part of the upcoming performance.

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