COTTONWOOD -- One of its founding members, tenor Jake Baker, believes, "There are about 30 community chorals in Arizona, but probably none as large or respected as the Verde Valley Voices," which draws from the Verde Valley and surrounding area. The numbers grow and wane but sometimes the chorale numbers as many as 125.
When Bev Hall became director of the Voices over 15 years ago, there were only about 30 singers. She is giving up the baton after this week's performance. She wants to concentrate on "time."
Bev thinks in terms of themes. This spring, the theme is "Joy," and "The Joy of Spring" is what you can expect at the spring performance this Saturday afternoon at the Verde Baptist Church. "I am finding 'joy' in anything," she says.
"Working in the music community, you know what people like to sing and don't like to sing and what will be appreciated and won't. So, I started choosing pieces that I knew the Voices would like to sing. After 9/11, we did an entire program of patriotic music. We have done 'around the world,' an international theme, we have done a concert with only spiritual and gospel music, we have done country and western themed concert, we have done old cowboy songs, Broadway show tunes. Then I started getting into themes like "gifts." I did a show on giving, like the Magi, not just sacred but secular, because you have to reach everybody."
But among the Voices, there has always been fellowship, family and friends, and that is part of the appeal.
"I foster fellowship," Bev says. "It is a fellowship of people caring for each other. When the Voices got so big, I thought, 'Every person has a story here; they are all professors or teachers, nurses, they are not just people who walk in the door and sing. They all have a history, they all have a need, they all have a joy.'
"We had a dress rehearsal for a performance one Saturday morning. That Friday night, we learned that the wife of one member had passed. But he showed up for the Saturday morning rehearsal. And I asked, 'Why are you here?' He responded, 'This is my family, where else would I be?'"
Bev said, when she took over as director, she created a simple, livable mission statement, 'We want to make beautiful music together and have fun.'
That, clearly, has happened again and again.
Verde arts critic David Kanowsky effused after 2012 Christmas concert, "Beverly Hall and Nancy Bright deserve every ounce of the kudos that we repeatedly bestow upon them. May we see them 'reign forever and ever' in Cottonwood!"
Nancy Bright is Bev's partner in that joy.
"Nancy Bright is an amazing talent, " Bev tells me. "She is by far the best accompanist in the Verde Valley. But she is also fun, charming and intelligent. She reads my mind."
Before coming to the Verde Valley, Bev had practiced in Indiana, but she had returned over and again to Cottonwood where her folks had built their first home on Rio Mesa Trail in 1970, when it was still a dirt track and the property had a view for miles and there was one stop light in town. She settled permanently when her parents died.
She recalls back then she joined the Voices because she just wanted to sing. It was in the fourth season.
She just wanted to sing after an already substantial career leading choirs and smaller groups. Like many in the Verde Valley, Bev is from the Midwest - Alexandria, Ind. - and was organist and choir director for 25-30 years. She also did community theater and ensembles as well as major works with church choirs of Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Haydn.
Bev has two master's degrees in Piano Performance and Orchestral Conducting. She began working toward a doctorate before moving to Cottonwood.
The Voices was led at the time by Joy Steel. Already overcommitted, she stepped down from the group. Bev suggested they have auditions for director, but Bev who had been helping out continued to lead the group from week to week and year to year.
The group has continued to attract those who regularly find joy in singing or have made a life of that joy.
"I have had people that have been professional singers and retired here. One man and his wife were members, but they sang with the Robert Shaw Chorale for many years. After she had passed away, he would come to rehearsals and he would come up to me and take my hand and say, 'This is so wonderful.'"
Another used to sing with the Marine Corps traveling choir.
"There are people who are beauticians that had a good voice. There are others who did not have a good voice, but just want to sing and have fellowship. By themselves, they cannot do it, but surrounded by others they can. It is amazing."
She talks about the healing effects of vocal music.
"One time a person brought their grandfather to the concert and he had Alzheimer's. He didn't talk, he was just mute, the brain had stopped working and so she had brought him in a wheelchair and sat in the back of the auditorium. But when we started singing Christmas carols, he began singing along. Because music is the first thing that a child hears, music, sound, voices are the last thing a person hears. So, music is a real communicator across all ages and all racial profiles. Everyone loves, everybody had style, everybody has a mother and a dad and family. And so I try to hook into themes that affect everybody."
The Verde Valley Voices have two major performances that all are expected to attend at Christmas and in the spring. But the many other events are voluntary. The Voices are asked to sing for the Chocolate Walk, the Verde Valley Fair, nursing homes at Christmas, Verde River Days, the Clarkdale Spring Fling. "Wherever there is a community gathering they usually ask us to provide some music," Bev says. They always have a repertoire.
What will Bev do with all that extra time? She will still retain her 20 piano students. She is a judge for the National Piano Guild and the Arizona Study Program for Piano, Piano Guild Chair for Central Arizona and a member of the advisory board for the Verde Valley Concert Association. Then, of course, she plays piano and organ at the Methodist Church, like her mother before her.
She loves to travel, and they just got a 5th-wheel RV and are planning a trip back to the Midwest. She also is part of a musical tour of Normandy, based in Paris, which will also include some other Voices.
Jake Baker, who is still on the Board, says that after advertising for three months and attracting conductors from throughout the United States and Europe, the board has chosen a man from Flagstaff.
President Trish Wood says Caleb Nihira is a Student Assistant to Dr. Edith Copley, the director of the Choral Department at NAU and director of the Master Chorale.
Wood says Bev is a task master, but she does it with good humor and love. "She is excellent at making the least of us successful."
Posted: Saturday, May 3, 2014
Article comment by:
"Joy of Spring" is an apt name for the final concert. It reminds us of the years of "joy" Beverly Hall has brought us. Her unwavering dedication to the "Voices" even in times of personal difficulties will never be forgotten by the members. Nor will the kindness extended to all on a personal level.
Her reach out to the community extends to many other groups as well. Whatever she decides to do in her retirement, I am certain she will still be giving of her magnificent talent and selflessness.
Posted: Thursday, May 1, 2014
Article comment by:
Beverly Hall is not only a gifted musician, she has shown true leadership in her tenure with the Verde Valley Voices. Under her stewardship and guidance, this community chorus has become a force to be reckoned with. Board members change, singers come and go, but Beverly Hall and Nancy Bright have been a constant and stabilizing force, keeping the chorus focused, moving forward and evolving. I have been involved with the VVV since 1998,and have watched this organization grow and expand. The Christmas Concert has become a tradition that any community would be proud to claim.. Twelve hundred people attend year after year, we have performed with local grade school choruses, local church choirs, the Cottonwood Community Band, string ensembles, bell choirs, and countless local musicians. This type of thing happens in large metropolitan areas, but in a city of size of Cottonwood, it is rare. Joy Simons laid a strong foundation, and Beverly Hall built and expanded the music program to encompass a wide range of music that would appeal to a broad audience. The mix of sacred and secular music is balanced so that neither is overpowering.
So a heartfelt Thank You to Beverly Hall for your years of commitment and dedication to the Verde Valley Voices, and the City of Cottonwood. Enjoy your new endeavors in the future, and know that you made a positive difference in this community, and in the lives of the members of the Verde Valley Voices.