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Hallelujah! Choral Society of Greensboro brings back 'Messiah'


A year ago, it seemed as if the city had seen its last performance of “Messiah.”

The Greensboro Oratorio Singers sang its 65th annual performance of George Frideric Handel’s sacred masterpiece last November.

Then, it disbanded.

Jon Brotherton and the Choral Society of Greensboro have stepped in to help to fill the void.

On Friday, the volunteer community chorus — conducted by Brotherton and sponsored by the Music Center of City Arts — will sing “Messiah” at First Baptist Church, 1000 W. Friendly Ave.

The Choral Society invited members of the Greensboro Oratorio Singers to join them, and 21 did. Another seven already had been singing with both groups.

“I cannot say enough about how their participation has made this performance special,” said Tom Wright, Choral Society president.

“Messiah” will unite a chorus of about 150 with a 20-piece orchestra and four soloists: soprano Beth Allen Gardner, alto Kayla Brotherton, tenor D’Andre Wright and bass Brian Carter.

They will perform the musical composition from 1741 that traces the birth, suffering, crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.

Some listeners know its famous “Hallelujah!” chorus best.

But there’s much more.

Even with a few sections omitted, the free performance will run about two hours, plus a 10- to 15-minute intermission, Brotherton said.

“No matter how many times I have heard or performed ‘Messiah,’ there is always exhilaration in singing the familiar choruses, from the melismatic canon in ‘He Shall Purify,’ to the great waves of sound in the ‘Amen Chorus,’ ” Tom Wright said.

This marks the 66th consecutive performance of “Messiah” for chorus member Thelma Greeson, a former member of the Greensboro Oratorio Singers.

Now 89, Greeson hasn’t missed a performance since the Oratorio Singers began singing “Messiah” in 1954.

Greeson actually began singing “Messiah” in 1947, in a performance sponsored by the Euterpe Club.

She might have missed a “Messiah” performance or two with the Euterpe Club, she said. But none since then.

She has sung the music so many times, she wore the cover off her original score.

This year, Greeson and other chorus members use a new score, the New Novello Choral Edition.

She’s glad that she joined the Choral Society performance. “It’s just part of Christmas,” she said.

Since its founding in 1983, the Choral Society has presented several concerts annually, with an emphasis on major classical works.

Membership is open to all, although the ability to read music and some experience in choral singing are desirable.

The Choral Society plans to make “Messiah” an annual event.

“The Greensboro Oratorio Society performed Messiah each year as a gift to the community,” Tom Wright said, “and the Choral Society of Greensboro intends to extend this important tradition.”

Come fall 2020, there will be two major separate productions of “Messiah.”

The Greensboro Symphony Orchestra already had planned for its new Master Chorale to sing “Messiah” with the orchestra on Dec. 10, 2020.

The Oratorio Singers began in 1951 as the Community Chorus of Greensboro, 20 singers who wanted to perform sacred choral music not usually sung in churches.

It became the Greensboro Oratorio Society in 1953, with Don Trexler as its head.

Trexler died in 1993. Jay O. Lambeth became the oratorio society’s music director and conductor.

Several years ago, it substituted “singers” for “society” in its title to clarify its purpose.

But in recent years, the number of chorus and audience members declined for the group’s other concerts. Ultimately, the Oratorio Singers decided to disband.

Donna Royster served as its last president.

When the opportunity came along to continue “Messiah” with the Choral Society, she took it and passed the word to other former Oratorio Singers.

“I wanted to continue the tradition,” Royster said.

This will mark her 12th annual performance of “Messiah.”

Royster doesn’t miss the president’s duties.

“It’s been fun to just sing and not have to do anything else,” she said.

When she walked into rehearsals, she knew not only former Oratorio Singers but other singers she had met over the years.

“I felt very welcome,” she said.

Expanding a chorus takes adjustments. More platforms for singers have been added to the performance space.

Donations help the group offset production costs of $5,500 to $6,000.

Although the Choral Society has not performed “Messiah” before, Brotherton has conducted it several times elsewhere.

About 85 to 90 percent of members have sung it with other choral groups.

That gave the Choral Society a head start in the rehearsal process, Brotherton said.

“It give us an opportunity to polish it more, to work on the cohesiveness of it a little more than we might be able to with a brand new piece,” Brotherton said.

He began the 10th rehearsal Tuesday night with a group vocal warm-up, accompanied by pianist Michael Parker.

Brotherton then moved on to “He Trusted in God” and “Lift Up Your Heads” from the second part of the piece.

He gave the chorus a thumbs-up.

“I feel they are ready to go,” he said.

Complaint says top North Carolina Republican is taking donors' money for personal gain

RALEIGH — A longtime good-government advocate is accusing North Carolina’s Republican Senate leader, Phil Berger, of improperly using his campaign donors’ money to buy a house in Raleigh.

Bob Hall, who led the group Democracy NC before retiring, held a news conference outside Berger’s home near downtown Raleigh Wednesday morning, outlining his concerns over what he said were apparent violations of campaign law. He told reporters he planned to file a formal complaint with the North Carolina Board of Elections afterward.

However, Berger’s campaign staff told The News & Observer that the elections board has already signed off on the arrangement — not once, but twice, under political leaders from both parties.

Berger bought the townhouse in question for $250,000 in 2016, property records show. In a copy of his complaint shared with The News & Observer, Hall said that since then Berger has taken, via an LLC he controls, more than $55,000 from his campaign to pay for the house.

Berger “is using his campaign fund like a piggy bank,” Hall said at the news conference.

“Unless the state Board of Elections takes action, politicians will continue to profit handsomely by funneling campaign contributions to themselves, directly or indirectly, to pay for inflated expenses and subsidized assets,” Hall wrote in his complaint.

But Dylan Watts, the Senate Republicans’ political director at the NC GOP, said Wednesday morning that Hall’s claims are baseless because Berger already got the state elections board’s approval.

Watts said Berger got that approval once while the elections board was led by Kim Strach during Republican Gov. Pat McCrory’s term, and again under the leader appointed under Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, Karen Brinson Bell.

“This is just another example of Bob Hall being a bottom-feeder and a scumbag,” Watts said.

Although Berger spends much of his time in Raleigh due to his legislative leadership duties, his main residence is in Eden, a small town near the Virginia border in Rockingham County. For the past 20 years in the legislature, he has represented that rural area north of Greensboro.

The complaint also says Berger has charged his campaign more than $100,000 in recent years for rent and other expenses at his law firm in Eden, through a different LLC he controls.

“Especially given the clever way an intermediary company is being used to funnel campaign money to a politician, I am also asking the Board to conduct a thorough investigation of other transactions where Phil Berger’s campaign funds are directly or indirectly personally enriching him,” Hall wrote.

But it’s the Raleigh townhouse that’s the focus of the ethics complaint. Berger and his wife, Patricia, live there much of the year; he employs her as a paralegal at the legislature.

Hall said there’s no problem, according to state elections officials, with lawmakers using their campaign money to pay for rent. But Berger is paying a mortgage, Hall said, which complicates matters.

In Hall’s complaint, he writes that “accountants will tell you that paying for the purchase of a house is not an expenditure — it’s a substantial capital investment in an asset that could increase in value over time. Put another way, this appears to be a case of a legislator profiting from his campaign by using his contributors’ money to acquire an asset worth about $250,000.”

“One way or the other what he’s doing is he’s using his campaign money to buy an asset, to buy a house,” Hall told reporters.

The General Assembly is not technically a full-time legislature, and legislators are required to maintain their primary residence in the district they represent — many of which, like Berger’s, are not particularly close to Raleigh. Lawmakers are also paid small salaries, typically $14,000 per year, plus an additional stipend of $104 a day every day the legislature is in session for food and housing.

Despite that housing stipend which could pay for a modest hotel room, many also dip into their campaign accounts to pay for more permanent lodging in the capital city.

A News & Observer examination of campaign finance records in 2018 found numerous lawmakers from various parts of the state using their donors’ money to pay for expenses like rent and parking in downtown Raleigh, or homeowners’ association fees in suburban Raleigh neighborhoods.

But Hall said he examined years of campaign finance reports and could find only one other example of a lawmaker using campaign cash to buy property — Berger’s leadership counterpart in the N.C. House of Representatives, Republican Rep. Tim Moore.

Hall said Berger and Moore appear to be trendsetters in using campaign cash to invest in property.

“Going through records over the past decade, I also do not see any examples of campaign-financed capital investments benefiting the previous legislative leaders — namely House Speaker Thom Tillis, House Speaker Joe Hackney or Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight,” Hall wrote.

Moore is from Kings Mountain in Cleveland County, west of Charlotte.

Hall said that similar to Berger’s setup with his townhouse in Raleigh, Moore bought a condominium in Raleigh using a company he controls and then from 2013 to 2016 used his campaign donors’ money to pay his company more than $22,000.

An interesting article in today's newspaper

Role player: A&T running back Jah-Maine Martin can be a game-changer, even without the football. Page C1

New voting system moves into final vetting stage

GREENSBORO — After what seemed to be a successful test run in High Point’s municipal elections, Guilford County officials are moving ahead with final vetting and planning for the switch to hand-marked ballots.

Charlie Collicutt, the county’s elections director, said his office will do both manual and electronic audits of Tuesday’s returns from the new system’s daylong test at Precinct H27-B during the High Point election.

“A bipartisan team will do it by hand” and compare their findings to the results provided by the test equipment, Collicutt said.

His office also plans to use another piece of electronic tabulating equipment to do a second recount of the H27-B returns as a fail-safe measure, he said.

County officials decided to move away from the touchscreen technology now in use and switch to a system of hand-marked, paper ballots that are thought to instill greater voter confidence in election outcomes.

A new state law takes effect next month, requiring the use of voting systems that use paper ballots and banning the type of touchscreen system that Guilford, Mecklenburg and several other North Carolina counties have used for years.

Guilford elections personnel tested the hand-marked voting system by Election Systems & Software Inc., which was chosen last month by the county Board of Elections. Tuesday’s test followed regulations that allow such sampling at one precinct in an actual election before county government commits to buying new equipment.

Collicutt said that 137 voters had cast ballots Tuesday at Deep River Friends Meeting in northern High Point. That added up to relatively light turnout in a precinct that includes roughly 2,000 registered voters, but Collicutt said he believed it was sufficient to provide an assessment.

In rough terms, Collicutt said the change to a new system should cost somewhere in the range of $3 million — significantly less than the $8 million that had been estimated for buying another touchscreen system that would meet the new law’s requirement to use paper ballots.

But unlike the current touchscreen system, the new hand-marked option requires printing thousands of additional paper ballots every election, which Collicutt said would add significantly to the costs of future elections.

The current system did not impose such costs because ballots are prepared digitally for display on touchscreen voting terminals.

One cost that still needs to be refined for the new system stems from its use of “privacy enclosures,” portable cubicles that ensure voters can make their selections in secrecy.

About a half dozen different types of enclosures were deployed Tuesday at H27-B. Collicutt said the enclosures range in cost from $75 to $300 each, depending on design and quality.

The county would need enough enclosures to equip 165 precincts.

Under the new system, voters go to an enclosure and fill out multiple-choice ballots in blue or black ink. They then feed each page into a computerized tabulator that scans it, adds up the votes and preserves the ballot in a sealed storage cabinet.

Collicutt said that poll workers at Deep River Friends Meeting encountered two voter mishaps Tuesday that would not be out of the ordinary after the new system is deployed across the county.

One voter selected too many candidates in one of the High Point contests, triggering an “over vote” message from the tabulator. In the other, a voter made some random marks on a ballot that the machine could not read and that also triggered an error report.

The system functioned as it should have in both cases, Collicutt said, and the voters were given an opportunity to vote properly after the erroneous ballots were voided.

UNCG reports a mumps case

GREENSBORO — Mumps has made its way to UNCG.

The university said Wednesday that one of its students has been diagnosed with the highly contagious viral infection that has hit two other area universities.

UNCG’s student clinic is working with state and Guilford County health officials to treat the student and make the campus community aware of the illness. UNCG also said it has notified everyone who has come in close contact recently with the infected student.

This is the first reported case at UNCG. Elon and High Point universities, meanwhile, have been battling the mumps since mid-September.

Elon said it has recorded three new mumps cases this week to bring its fall semester total to 10 cases.

High Point had seen 30 cases among its students as of Oct. 28. Since then, two more students have been diagnosed with mumps. Only one student remains in isolation because that person is still contagious.

The cases reported at these three schools make up the bulk of mumps cases reported statewide in 2019. As of Oct. 26, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, North Carolina had seen 44 cases of mumps compared to just 10 at the same time in 2018.

Mumps can start out with the flu-like symptoms of fever, head and muscle aches, fatigue and loss of appetite before it causes swelling of the salivary glands in the jaw and behind the ears. Symptoms don’t usually appear until 16 to 18 days after a person is infected. A person is contagious for five days after facial swelling appears —and for two days before.

Mumps spreads by respiratory droplets from coughing, sneezing and talking as well as through contact with saliva by sharing utensils and beverage containers as well as through kissing.

Two doses of the MMR vaccine, given to most children before they turn seven, is 88 percent effective in preventing mumps. When giving two doses of the vaccine became standard by the late 1980s, mumps — a common childhood disease in the United States — virtually disappeared.

But a growing body of research suggests that the vaccine’s protection can wear off in some people over time. That’s one reason mumps can spread quickly in places where lots of people live in close contact, such as college campuses, summer camps and other tight-knit communities.

Local, state and national health officials recommend that people who think they might have had contact with the mumps get another dose of the MMR vaccine. UNCG held an MMR vaccine booster clinic at its Student Health Services building Wednesday and has additional clinics scheduled for today and Friday.

High Point and Elon universities previously have held vaccine clinics on their campuses.