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Arkansas Chamber Singers

The Arkansas Chamber Singers (ACS) is vocal ensemble dedicated to performing and promoting classical and contemporary choral repertoire. Membership in the nonprofit group is by audition.

The ACS began when Bill Clinton, elected as the state’s governor in 1978, appointed Massachusetts resident Paul Levy to head the Arkansas Department of Energy. Levy’s wife was Barbara Abramoff Levy, director of the Newton Choral Society and the conducting assistant to the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, an adjunct to the Boston Symphony Orchestra. She wanted to continue her involvement in music, and in 1979, with the support of the Bill and Hillary Clinton, she joined the faculty of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR) and organized a new chamber ensemble named the Arkansas Chamber Singers. In September 1979, Barbara Levy began auditioning singers. She directed weekly rehearsals with the new thirty-member group, resulting in its first concert in January 1980.

After Bill Clinton failed in his re-election bid for governor in 1980, the Levys returned to Massachusetts. The ACS continued without a director until Dr. Rosella Duerksen was hired to lead the ensemble in 1981. She directed the ACS until she resigned in 1995 to focus on directing music at Second Presbyterian Church in Little Rock (Pulaski County). Her successor was Dr. John Yarrington, the music director at Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church. He served in both positions until 1999, when he became the choral director at Houston Baptist University

In 1999, Professor John Erwin, director of choral music at the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) in Conway (Faulkner County), was named the ACS’s artistic director and conductor.

Over the years, singers have typically come from central Arkansas, though some of the men and women in the ACS have traveled from around the state to participate in the weekly two-and-a-half-hour Tuesday rehearsals, as well as the intense rehearsals during the week prior to a performance. The size of the group has grown over the years from the original thirty members to more than sixty at times. The concerts often feature the works of classical composers such as Mozart, Bach, Schubert, Fauré, and Brahms. The ACS has also commissioned works by noted contemporary composers such as Stephen Paulus, David Dickau, and Gwyneth Walker. The ACS is often a featured choir with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.

The ACS presents its season of three concert sets with a particular theme chosen by the artistic director. Because it is difficult to find acoustical venues in the area, the ACS often performs in sanctuaries. Some other performance venues have included outdoor settings across the state, the Arkansas State Capitol rotunda, the Old State House Museum, and the Great Hall of the William J. Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock.

Throughout its history, the ACS has been financially supported by private donations, grants from various trusts and foundations, and public ticket sales to its concerts. It is a registered nonprofit organization.

For additional information:
Arkansas Chamber Singers. http://www.ar-chambersingers.org/ (accessed April 1, 2014).

“Chamber Singers’ Director Leaving State.” Arkansas Gazette, May 3, 1981, p. 7F.

Harrison, Eric. “Chamber Singers Director Named.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, October 7, 1999, p. 3B.

———. “Music Director Goin’ Back to Texas.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, July 16, 1999, pp. 1E, 8E.

Hays, Sandy Miller. “Arkansas Chamber Singers Are New, but Hardly Novices.” Arkansas Democrat Weekend Magazine, January 18, 1980, p. 12.

Pierce, Susan. “A New Song.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, May 4, 1995, pp. 4E, 8E.

T. T. Tyler Thompson
Gary Moore
Arkansas Chamber Singers Board of Directors

Last Updated 5/9/2014

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