The Reading Choral Society
Founded in 1875, the Reading Choral Society is one of America’s oldest musical ensembles, and from its earliest days has pursued performances characterized by vocal excellence and musical distinction. Under its first music director, German-trained Edward A. Berg, the Society flourished, in part from Berg’s personal connections to the musical leaders of the day, particularly his friendship with Theodore Thomas, the most dynamic and foresighted orchestral conductor of the nineteenth century. Berg’s enlightened direction and his mission—to perform great choral masterworks, without ignoring contemporary composers—has guided the Society since its founding. Berg and his successors performed the major choral/orchestral repertory (Messiah, The Creation, and Elijah were particularly popular), often accompanied by the New York Philharmonic Club, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and similar groups. The Society, like its many sister choruses across the country in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, brought musical stars and quality repertory to the Reading community, long before orchestras usurped that role in the public’s perception. In its first half-century, the Society performed with such vocal stars such as baritone Nelson Eddy, and Metropolitan opera regulars Margaret Harshaw, William Hargrave, Julius Huehn, Wellington Ezekiel, and many others.
The RCS programmed the twentieth-century’s most important choral works, including among many others Orff’s Carmina Burana, Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, Ernest Bloch’s Sacred Service, and Honegger’s King David. The Society also has a distinguished record of performing American music: Horatio Parker led an early performance of his ground-breaking oratorio Hora Novissima with the RCS, and Henry Hadley later conducted a program of his works. Many of Samuel Coleridge Taylor’s oratorios were given early hearings in Reading, and the Society gave the local premieres of Kurt Weill’s Down in the Valley, Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, and the distinguished African-American composer Robert Nathaniel Dett’s The Ordering of Moses. More recently, the Society has commissioned music from Daniel Pinkham, David Conte, Jennifer Higdon, Robert Page, Jayson Rotnak, and for the 2004-2005 season, from Pennsylvania composer Robert Maggio.
Under its current music director, Graham Bier (the twelfth person to hold this position), the Reading Choral Society continues to evolve and change. Its educational programs now encompass performances with invited local high school and college choirs. The RCS awards both high school and college scholarships to promising music students. In addition, the RCS sponsors the Berks Choir Games, a choral festival for the community choirs. RCS hosts Gloria Singers which involves Berks County parochial students and RCS members working together in a workshop and then singing together in a concert. Performances include collaborations with the Reading Symphony Orchestra, Ringgold Band and the Reading Pops. While continuing the tradition of programming choral masterworks, the Society has expanded its repertory to include the more frequent performance and commissioning of new music and the exploration of more “popular” literature, like folksong, spirituals, and current composers.
The Reading Choral Society is comprised now, as it has always been, of dedicated amateur singers from all walks of life, and all ages. Determined to present the highest caliber musical performances possible, the 70-voice Society rehearses weekly in a professional atmosphere, fulfilling the lives of its members by immersing them in great music, and through RCS performances enriching and enlivening the musical life of the greater Reading community.
Non-Discrimination StatementThe Reading Choral Society admits people of any race, color, national, and ethnic origin and to all the rights, privileges, programs and activities generally accorded or made available to the members of the Society. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national, or ethnic origin in administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, scholarships, or other Society programs.
Nonprofit StatementThe Reading Choral Society is a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit, charitable organization. A copy of the official registration and financial information may be obtained from the Pennsylvania Department of State by calling toll free, within Pennsylvania, 1-800-732-0999. Registration does not imply endorsement.
Mission StatementOur mission is to perform, foster and advance choral music in the Reading and Berks County community.