About Us- History
In the Spring of 1971, two former members of the Bach Choir of Pittsburgh, Oren Hopkins and Linda Stainton, not fond of traveling to Pittsburgh for rehearsals and concerts decided it was time to form a local choral society. The success of the recently organized Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra, along with the encouragement of the music faculty from Seton Hill College and the support of others from the Greensburg community, led to the formation of the Westmoreland Choral Society. Rehearsals began on September 8, 1971 with Dr. William Dovenspike as director and his wife Arlene as accompanist. In its early years, the WCS struggled financially and suffered a high turnover in membership.
Marvin Huls became the Musical Director of the WCS in September 1976. At the same time, Bill Peters was hired to fill the position of Accompanist. With forty-four new members joining the organization, the WCS became a 75 voice singing group. Edgar Highberger became the Accompanist in January, 1978.
Rehearsals were originally held at Seton Hill College. Other facilities used for rehearsals include the First Methodist Church, Greensburg; First Presbyterian Church, Greensburg; the YMCA, Greensburg; the Salvation Army, Greensburg; back to the First Presbyterian Church; and finally the present location, First Lutheran Church, Greensburg.
The WCS draws its members from Westmoreland, Fayette, Allegheny, Armstrong, and Somerset Counties. The singers come from various educational, career and professional backgrounds united by the love of singing, the challenge of learning a variety of choral music and the desire to participate in the continuation of this art form.
The annual concert series has expanded from the original two concerts per year to the point where it now includes a Fall Concert; a Christmas Concert, usually given on two consecutive nights; a Lenten Concert concentrating on sacred music; and an early May Pops Concert. The WCS has performed at the Westmoreland County Arts and Heritage Festival at Twin Lakes Park, at St. Clair Park in Greensburg and also on other special occasions. The WCS has taken singing tours to Canada, Williamsburg and Lancaster.
In 2009, Marvin Huls and Ed Highberger announced their intentions to retire after 34 and 32 years respectively of leadership. This triggered a year-long search for a new Musical Director and Accompanist. In May of 2010, the Board of Directors hired Thomas Octave as the new director; Nancy Finke Sheehan agreed to serve as accompanist. Under Tom’s direction, the Society has expanded its cooperation with other
area arts groups and re-established some traditions from the past.
The WCS created a composer-in-residence program which resulted in world premiere performances of works composed for the group by Pittsburgh area composers. The Westmoreland Children’s Chorus was re-established in 2013 and is now performing at two of each season’s concerts. In 2012 and 2013, the fall concerts featured original choreography by Bodiography, a contemporary dance company from Pittsburgh. In 2013, this relationship resulted in the WCS singing live for two Bodiography performances in the Byham Theater in the Pittsburgh Cultural District.
Since 2010, most concerts have featured instrumentalists from the Pittsburgh Festival Orchestra. In 2012, the WCS began a tradition of singing with River City Brass for the second of its Christmas Concert performances. In 2014, the WCS will sing with the Pittsburgh Philharmonic in two performances of the Beethoven 9th Symphony. Performance venues have also expanded. In addition to the downtown Pittsburgh performances mentioned earlier, concerts have been held in New Kensington, Irwin, and Latrobe as well as the Seton Hill University Performing Arts Center and Westmoreland County Community College.
Stronger than ever, the WCS continues its proud tradition of bringing well-prepared concerts of the finest choral music to Southwestern Pennsylvania.