Mars Hill University / J. Elwood Roberts Choral Festival
FEBRUARY 3-4, 2017 Craig Jessop, GUEST CONDUCTOR/Clinician
The 68th Annual Mars Hill University/J. Elwood Roberts Choral Festival held on the campus of Mars Hill University February 5-6, 2016 was a huge success with Elena Sharkova, Artistic Director of Symphony Silicon Valley Chorale, San Jose, California, as our guest conductor. The 330 high school students presented an outstanding closing concert and left with a greater appreciation for choral music and a new understanding of the Russian choral tradition.
Plans are well underway for the 69th Festival to be held on February 3-4, 2017 with Craig Jessop making his second appearance as our guest clinician.
Dr. Craig Jessop is Professor of Music and the founding Dean for the Caine College of the Arts at Utah State University. These appointments follow Dr. Jessop’s distinguished tenure as music director of the world famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Head of the Department of Music at Utah State. He is the founder and Music Director of the American Festival Chorus and Orchestra and has served as the music director of the Carnegie Hall National High School Choral Festival sponsored by the Weill Institute of Music at Carnegie Hall. Prior to his appointment with the Tabernacle Choir, Dr. Jessop was a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Air Force music programs, where he served as director of the U.S. Air Force Singing Sergeants in Washington, D.C. (1980-1987); as commander and conductor of the Band of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe at Ramstein, Germany (1987-1991); and as commander and conductor of the Air Combat Command Heartland of America Band (1991-1995).
History of the Festival
The Mars Hill University/J. Elwood Roberts Choral Festival was established in 1949 by the late J. Elwood Roberts as an effort to improve choral music in the high schools of western North Carolina. While in the beginning the “clinic” was comprised of about fifteen schools in the closely surrounding area, this annual event has grown into one of the premiere choral festivals in North Carolina and, as far as is known, is the longest, continuously-running festival of its type in the southeast and is unique for a private college in the United States. Each year more than 700 students from approximately 100 high schools audition for the Festival Choir.
In the early years students were selected by their directors to sing in the choral “clinic”. Quite often, a double quartet from each high school would participate. As the event continued to grow, reaching a size of 400 non-auditioned singers, it was decided that a better format would be to reduce the size to approximately 325 voices and have the singers audition at selected high school sites. This practice was put into effect for the clinic of 1970. Auditions are held at various sites in October. After being selected, the singers prepare the music and attend one of seven zone rehearsals held in January. With the help of high school zone coordinators this practice has proven very effective.
Guest conductors have included some of the most prominent choral musicians in the United States.
J. Elwood Roberts came to Mars Hill College in 1944. He served the music department in several capacities, most notably as an instructor in music theory. He also directed the choir at Mars Hill Baptist Church. Mr. Roberts died in 1966 at the age of 52.