A single musical event which occurred over a decade ago has evolved into a significant regional music Festival. On that night, music lovers heard a tribute to Mozart on the occasion of his bicentennial. The following year, the noted American conductor, John Nelson, directed a program of Moravian church music, which was preceded on the evening before by joyous music from the Baroque period.
An Emerging Event
The response from the community was positively overwhelming. A Board of Advisors was formed and Festival objectives outlined. Two of these objectives were of prime importance. The first, that this Festival should promote African-American sacred music so endemic to this area. The second, that we should showcase great choral performances, since this area had such a rich tradition of choral music.
We have attended to our objective concerning African-American music, engaging The Hallelujah Singers of Beaufort on two occasions. We have enjoyed and our spirits have been uplifted by the Moving Star Hall Singers of Johns Island, New York’s Harlem Gospel Ensemble and The South Carolina State University Chorus. Throughout the years, local singing groups such as The Grate Sisters, The Sensational Miracles, The Men of Zion, and The Miracles of Zion and others have also joined these visitors. Our choral offerings have included some of the most lyrical of the great masses, performed by local choruses, regional choirs, and The Charleston Symphony Chorus. These masses include Mozart’s “Coronation” Mass, Schubert’s Mass in G, Rachmaninov’s “Vespers,” Gounod’s “St. Cecilia” Mass and Puccini’s “Messa de Gloria.”
We have featured The Long Bay Symphony in “Concerts Under The Stars” and the Charleston Community Band on two “lemonade concerts.” From the Metropolitan Opera we have heard diva Martina Arroyo, local and international baritone Tom Fox, and soprano Jennifer Welsh. The British Isles have given us dramatic soprano Shelley Everall, Welsh tenor Jason Balla, and conductor John Hoban. Last season the Festival introduced the young tenor Bryan Hymel who has just become a member of the San Francisco Opera.
Something For Everyone
A wide variety of offerings have been made by this Festival. Our audiences have enjoyed Bluegrass on the Beach, a Marionette performance, a mandolin band, jazz, dance, and a premier of the award winning documentary, “Miss Ruby.” Many of the programs are free to the public and indicated as PIP – Pawleys Island Pizazz.
The Visual Arts
For several years the opening of the Festival has featured a free art exhibition where local artists show their creations. Years ago this tradition started at The Rice Museum in Georgetown. Now these exhibitions take place at Art Works in Litchfield, masterminded by the creative genius of Linda Ketron.
In 1998 and 1999, the art show featured winning works from local competitions. In 2000 and this year as well, the exhibition entitled, “The Masters Show, ” features works by area teaching artists in a variety of media to stimulate the senses. A portion of the opening night sales will benefit another offspring of the Festival – the Pawleys Island Youth Arts Celebration.
Youth Musicfest and the Music and Dance Award Program
In 1994, the Festival launched Youth Musicfest with a single program featuring three teenaged boys in a program called “A Sunday Afternoon with Mike, Ben, and Joe.” These boys have now become professional musicians. “Mike,” Mikhail Agrest, conducts the Pawleys Island Chamber Orchestra and the Pops Orchestra. Youth Musicfest, under the direction of dancer and choreographer, Ilka Doubek, has evolved into an eight program event and has become its own entity. Each year, many young artists benefit from the music awards provided by the Festival, through local donors. Two years ago, “Operation Keyboard” was instigated at Waccamaw Elementary School, a program sponsored by Festival donors in which fifteen electronic keyboards were provided to teach piano.
The 2001 Festival promises to be memorable. Our own Pawleys Island Pops Orchestra will make its debut under the direction of that young violinist, Mikhail Agrest, who performed at the first Youth Musicfest. We will hear the eclectic acoustic sounds of Red Nectar of Charleston, Lynn Roberts, the only female vocalist to have performed with all the Big Bands, and the College of Charleston Concert Choir performing a contemporary, but accessible work. The grand finale will be the African-American day when local groups join the internationally known Georgia Sea Island Singers and The Morrisville Brass Band for programs at Pawleys Plantation and Bethesda Missionary Baptist Church in Georgetown.
This year marked the first time that Festival officials asked for professional help in running this event. This Festival has had steady growth and we could no longer ask volunteers to do complex tasks with efficiency. Rimco International was asked to do the job and they have done it with aplomb.
But even with professional assistance the pressure is not taken off the Music Director. As an example, during the past few weeks I have been communicating with a soprano in Connecticut who is hospitalized with a serious injury, a baritone “somewhere in Italy,” a choral conductor with a choir “somewhere in the West,” a conductor in St. Petersburg, Russia, and a concertmaster in Aspen. I have had to organize a new Pops Orchestra with musicians scattered between Wilmington and Savannah. It takes patience, but as President Harry Truman said, “If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.”
This summer I visited Bar Harbor, Maine (the Pawleys of the North), and talked extensively with conductor Francis Fortier who founded and has directed the Bar Harbor Music Festival for 35 years. In a vacation community somewhat similar to Pawleys Island, he faces the same problems we do – funding, attracting audiences, and acquiring good musical talent at an affordable price. Apparently Fortier had not discovered The Metropolitan Opera Auditions (an event I go to each March and in the past four years have brought in three artists from this program. I didn’t give Maestro Fortier this tip!) Bar Harbor, like Pawleys Island, has no public venue. If the Festival of Music & Art is to go on, this issue must be addressed. We also need a paid Music Director. We shouldn’t need a retired physician doing this vital job.
Maestro Fortier’s salary is $75,000. Perhaps if we gave him a raise he might be enticed to come to Pawleys Island.