Schuylkill Choral Society
The Schuylkill Choral Society, formerly the Schuylkill County Community Chorus, was formed in 1973 by its founder and first conductor James Rickley with the help of the group's first accompanist Miriam Small. The original group consisted of thirty members mostly from local church choirs and students of Mr. Rickley. The original rehearsals were held at the Catholic War Vets in Pottsville. The group's first public performance was held for the residents of Rest Haven in Schuylkill Haven. Francis Portland assumed the conductor's stand during the late 1970s and introduced the chorus to its first major work, Handel's Messiah. Catherine Zimmerman followed as conductor during the early 1980s. Under her leadership, the group continued to expand its repertoire, including a performance of Brahms's Requiem. During the mid 1980s Dr. Mark P. Thomas assumed the position of conductor and music director. He continues in that role today.
In the late 1980s, the choir expanded its concert season to three major concerts and continued to expand its repertoire in both classical and contemporary music. Orchestral accompaniment was added for major performances. The chorus began to travel throughout central and eastern Pennsylvania. In 1991 the chorus embarked on its first European tour and received high praise in both the German and Austrian press. The chorus made two tours of Canada during 1995 and 1998. The 1990s brought much attention to the chorus as it was featured on many television shows as well as frequent broadcasts on the radio. During the 1994-1995 season, The Fiftieth Anniversary Commemorative World War II Concert brought national attention. The chorus was recognized by then President Bill Clinton for its recognition of veterans and its contributions to its community. Parts of this program were also used in Washington D.C. to celebrate the official national anniversary at the end of WWII. In 1998, the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Concert and gala dinner were held in honor of the chorus. Many past members and directors returned for this county-wide celebration.
The new millennium has seen the formation of the Schuylkill Choral Society Orchestra to accompany major works. The chorus released its first commercial CD, Holiday Favorites, and has combined its efforts with other local organizations including frequent performances with the Schuylkill Symphony Orchestra. In 2002 the chorus embarked on its second overseas tour to the British Isles and in 2004 toured in the United States. In 2005 the choir performed with the New York Pops at Lakeside Ballroom commemorating Jimmy Dorsey's 100th birthday. In 2006 the choir again traveled to Europe to take part in the 2006 "In The Footsteps of Mozart Tour". Mozart's Mass in C Major "Coronation" was performed in Prague, the Czech Republic; and in St. Stephen's Cathedral (Stephansdom) in Vienna, Austria. The choir has also been featured performing the National Anthem for both the Philadelphia Flyers and the Philadelphia Phillies.
Today the Schuylkill Choral Society, previously known as the Schuylkill County Community Chorus, is an 80-voice auditioned volunteer choir that continues its original credo of promoting cultural growth in its community. Beyond that, the group has begun to surpass that credo to become one of the most recognizable community choruses in Pennsylvania.