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New director completes first year with chorale group

By Staff | Nov 22, 2017

Shirley Smith, director of the West Branch Chorale, leads several choirs in addition to lending music and song for special events throughout the region.

TURBOTVILLE – Fortunate are communities having among them, persons talented in music and song. One of many in this valley with a long-standing tradition is the West Branch Chorale.

Shirley Smith marks her one-year anniversary as director of the 55- member group by saying, “Nicer people you would never find.”

In the area since 2006, the Turbotville resident’s life continues to be consumed with music. Her career course was set in motion at age seven with piano lessons in her native Maryland. “That went well and when I turned twelve, organ lessons were added to my schedule. During junior and senior high school, I practiced two hours before and two hours after school,” she said.

The now accomplished musician remains in contact where her initial organ instructor, Walter Schurr, currently residing in Arizona, who at the time of the mentoring was 16.

“My parents saved enough money to send me to Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio, where I majored in organ and minored in piano. Later I attended George Washington University earning my masters in organ performance,” Smith said.

Over the years and as choir members sought someone to share delicate matters, Smith acquired a master’s degree in pastoral counseling. “I’ve always been a good listener, but I wanted to know what questions to ask,” she said.

For nearly a dozen years, Smith worked at a Maryland church then spent nine years in Vermont. “For our wedding anniversary, my husband and I took annual fall trips to the New England state. We enjoyed it so much we moved there,” she said.

At St. John Lutheran Church near Montgomery, Smith directs both an adult and children’s choir, as well as a choir at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Williamsport. Much preparation is required for three weekly practices.

Being selected as director of the West Branch Chorale was a nearly missed opportunity. Smith overheard three members of the Redeemer choir, also West Branch members, discussing interviewees for the position. After joining the conversation, they inquired if she might be interested.

“The position was not advertised, but was open through suggestions from chorale members. A list of four were to be interviewed and when I phoned, the fourth had already been scheduled,” Smith said.

Smith did receive a call, interviewed with committee and auditioned with ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’ as required at all try outs. She included impromptu scores into the arrangement which she recalled as, “the choir did superbly with it.”

The new director faced challenges throughout this first year including the death of her husband Rich and knee replacement surgery. “Choir members have been generous with support and cards,” she said.

As for the chorale’s longtime pianist, she said, “I must complement Joy Barto. I don’t think there’s anything she can’t play. Her dexterity at the keyboard is phenomenal.”

The director considers the chorale concerts a ministry and its upcoming performances include Christmas songs rendered in both secular and traditional styles.

Added to the chorale’s holiday season schedule this year is the Candle Light Service at the Stone Church (Lutheran) on the federal prison grounds hosted by the Montgomery Area Historical Society on Dec. 16th. The first holiday concert will be Sunday, Dec. 3 at Pleasant View Wesleyan Church, Cemetery Street, Muncy, and again on Sunday Dec. 10 at Fairfield Lutheran Church in Montoursville.