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Music touches the heart

Highland Springs Chorus shares songs of the season

Created date

December 15th, 2016
The Highland Springs Chorus, directed by Gene Lawrence (front, center), at their 2015 holiday concert. This year’s concert will take place on Sunday, December 4.

The Highland Springs Chorus, directed by Gene Lawrence (front, center), at their 2015 holiday concert. This year’s concert will take place on Sunday, December 4.

The Highland Springs Chorus kicks off a month-long holiday celebration at the North Dallas community with its annual Christmas concert on Sunday, December 4.

“The Christmas concert is a highlight of the holiday season,” say Community Resources Coordinator Barbara Blachly. “People look forward to it every year.”

Gene Lawrence, who has directed the chorus for seven years, says the December concert began taking shape in his mind over the summer.

“It’s the first holiday event that takes place at Highland Springs, so we want to encourage people to get into the spirit of the season,” says Gene.

The Highland Springs Chorus performs two concerts a year, one in the spring and another in December.

“The challenge with the Christmas concert is that you have a specific canon of works to choose from,” says Gene. “Some years we’ve performed more sacred music; other years it’s been more commercial music. This year we’re doing a mixture of both.”

Continuing his life’s work

Gene took over as the director of the Highland Springs Chorus two years after he moved to the North Dallas Erickson Living community. After spending 28 years conducting junior high and high school band and choral groups, Gene thought his days in the director’s chair ended at retirement.

“I joined the chorus when I first moved to Highland Springs,” says Gene. “Then Erin James, who was directing the chorus and whose mother lived at Highland Springs, had to step down. I took over from her in 2009.”

Now Gene says he feels fortunate to continue his life’s work.

“I get a lot of joy orchestrating and building something new every year,” says Gene, who also accompanies the chorus on the piano during their performances. “It keeps me going, keeps me thinking, keeps me playing the piano.”

Refreshing familiar tunes

When Gene sits down to plan out a concert, he takes past performances into consideration.

“I try to make familiar music sound different,” he says. “It’s just something I have inside me. Even though we’re singing songs people have heard for years, I want to tweak them a little to create something different and fresh.”

Toward that end, Gene writes many of the choral arrangements himself.

“I try to have the songs ready before I hand them out to chorus members, but sometimes inspiration hits during rehearsal,” says Gene. “They’ll look at me and ask, ‘Are you going to change this again?’”

For this year’s holiday concert, Gene chose two selections the group hasn’t sung before, the New Christy Minstrels’ versions of “Sing Hosanna,” “Hallelujah,” and “The Shepherd Boy.”

“We want to draw the audience in, make them feel engaged, and leave feeling good about what they just heard,” says Gene.

Music touches the heart

The Highland Springs Chorus is 45 residents strong, some with prior singing experience and some who are enjoying their first foray into choral music.

“I’ve had people who come up to me and say they’d like to join the chorus but can’t read music,” says Gene. “As long as they can carry a tune and are reasonably in-tune, they can pick it up. Our main objective is to have fun and share our enthusiasm for music.”

Katherine Blanc is the chorus’s secretary. Aside from singing with the group, she also handles the administrative tasks. 

“Gene is a gifted and creative leader who inspires us to be our best,” says Katherine. “Since he’s been directing the chorus, we’ve grown in number and grown in ability.”

Peggy Watkins is one of the chorus’s original members. She hasn’t missed a concert since the group’s inception.

“The chorus is a great outlet for those of us who love music,” she says. “It has a way of touching the heart.”