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Apr 29, 2024

Sun City’s Chorus & Orchestra Club Marks Major Milestone

Gwyneth J. Saunders

Photography By

Gwyneth J. Saunders
When audiences fill the 500-plus-seat venue this month, they’ll hear music from Andrew Lloyd Webber, Carole King, ABBA, and more.

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On Mother’s Day weekend, the 60 singers of the Sun City Chorus and Orchestra will mount the risers on stage and mark the 25th anniversary of its founding as the sounds of Broadway, the silver screen, and folk tunes ring out in Magnolia Hall. 

This spring concert is one of two series the Sun City Hilton Head club performs annually. It is the result of a casual conversation in 1997 between new residents who wanted to continue the music they had enjoyed before retirement.

“We were at a meeting of the Town Square Upbeats social club with Phylis and Frank Giglinto listening to a local Sweet Adelines (harmony group),” said Judy Barry. “We were both still living part-time up north. She’d been singing with the Sweet Adelines in New Jersey, and I had sung with the Delaware Choral Society in Dover. I knew I was going to miss singing.”

Barry went to Carol Moran, who was the community’s activities director, to ask about starting a choral group, and learned that Dave Wilson, another Sun City resident, had also approached Moran to start a men’s singing group. 

Barry, Wilson, and Giglinto, who would become the co-founders, met with Jim Lau and Joan DeLude, who were also interested in creating a choral group. Wilson lived next door to DeLude and persuaded her to become the first treasurer while her husband, Joe, handled membership.

The organizers needed 25 people to sign up in order for the club to get off the ground. At the first meeting in January 1998, more than 50 people attended, which meant the group now needed a director. One of the new members was Tom Blackburn, who directed a gospel choir in Savannah. Although his style of directing did not fit the group, he found that his next-door neighbor, Marcia Garner, was a former music teacher interested in directing. The group was now ready for rehearsals.

By the fall of 1998, the original 60 members of the new musical club were ready to perform, and stepped out from behind a set of black drapes in a corner of Pinckney Hall. There was nothing fancy about the staging. The bleachers on which they were standing had lined the adjacent ballfield just a few days earlier. 

Nor was the music complicated. The singers were accompanied on an electric keyboard, and at times the music was shared between three pianists. In 1999, the chorus held a fundraiser organized by Lynn Bland and her husband, Jim, and – with the assistance of the Community Association – raised $11,000 to purchase a Kawai grand piano.

In 2001, both Garner and Sue Ellen Koenig, the third pianist, wanted a sabbatical, and the club began hunting for a new director. 

The subsequent introduction and hiring in 2001 of Art Hansen as musical director marked a new direction for the performing arts group. His wife, Lorraine, an accomplished pianist, became the assistant musical director. 

By the time the chorus performed the 2002 holiday concerts, Hansen had auditioned musicians and formed a band composed of more residents. Many have since aged out of performing, and only one of the current musicians is a resident. The rest of the full orchestra includes instrumentalists hailing from Savannah to Columbia.

In 2014, a second joint fundraising effort between the chorus and the Community Association resulted in the purchase of another Kawai grand piano, which is in use today for all musical performances, including those produced by the Sun City Theatre.

Not only has Hansen expanded the sound of the club, but he has enhanced the group’s look, coordinating with a costume committee for outfits that suit the music, season, and performers.

It’s a far step from what Barry experienced in the early days.

Judy Barry, the last original member of the Sun City Chorus still performing, with Art Hansen, musical director of the group.

“Before we got long, black dresses we had red, white and blue-striped vests. When we had more singers than vests, we passed them to the Sun City Singers, a new group that performed around the community,” Barry said. “We had an ugly black skirt that we wore with the white blouse. We had some gold lame, so we made bows and tied them at the neck of our shirts.” 

The bleachers have long been replaced, first with a set that was shared with The Sun Tones – a women’s a cappella barbershop chorus. More recently – thanks to a generous donation – professional choral risers that can hold both singers and chairs added the finishing touch to the club’s appearance and comfort.

Hansen gives credit to the choral singers for helping make the group popular.

“It’s the energy of the membership validating the novelty of the music, and the participation of the audience,” the director said. “I think it all comes together to give us a great, great result, and keeps the chorus growing every year.”

When audiences fill the 500-plus-seat venue this month, they’ll hear music from Andrew Lloyd Webber, Carole King, ABBA, and more. The holiday concerts, which are the first weekend in December, kick off the season with traditional carols and popular tunes – and tickets are hard to come by as concertgoers launch the festive season. Each concert continues the tradition begun 25 years ago.

Barry said the chorus has flourished because of the director and accompanist, the executive board, as well as those dedicated members who work on the various committees.

It’s a tradition that Barry – the last original member still performing – treasures with each season. “It’s my passion. As long as I can do this, I will be here,” she said. “I just love it, and it’s been a rewarding thing for me. I get to know a lot of great people.”  

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