It Began With A Dream (’53 – ’57)
When Director Harry Langley organized the Pekin Orchestra and Choral Society in 1953, he had dreams of a successful adult music group with growing popularity. Little did he know that his group would emerge into a 90-member Pekin Civic Chorus, presenting a five-night sellout performance every other year, plus a Sunday matinee!
The chorus gave its first performance in December of 1953 with the Pekin Symphony Orchestra, when they presented “The Messiah”, the famous Handel Oratorio. The group was known as the Pekin Orchestra & Choral Society. In 1954, the group again sang “The Messiah” in December and followed with two symphony concerts in January and February of 1955. Paul Wagner was the director of the 52-piece orchestra. However, that form of musical entertainment did not have enough appeal to the general public, and since expenses were becoming prohibitive, the group decided to disband.
Fresh Start, Fresh Sound (’57 – ’83)
The Civic Chorus board then decided to give the community a fresh sound with the presentation of “A Night With Rodgers and Hammerstein” in October of 1957. The show was an instant hit with the audience and proved to be the right direction for coming shows.
“One Hundred Years on Broadway” was the next presentation in 1958 and played to a packed house. (Only one performance was given for the first two shows in the ’50s). Broadway music seems to suit the taste of the Pekin audience setting a standard to continue in subsequent shows. Also, the chorus kept its musical background by presenting two oratarios between the Broadway shows. “Saint Paul” was performed in 1957, with piano and organ accompaniment. Margaret Fair and Thomas Neal accompanied the chorus for “The Holy City” in 1959, with a 130-voice chorus!
“Sounds of Music” was presented on April 17 and 18, 1961, featuring popular selections from “The King & I”, “The Sound of Music”, “Gigi”, “Flower Drum Song” and “The Music Man”. The headline in the Pekin Daily Times read, “Civic Chorus ‘Sounds of Music’ a tremendous hit!” Harry Langley again directed the chorus; Larry Fogelberg directed the orchestra; Nina Dancey staged the show; and Roslyn Murphy accompanied the chorus for the first time.
The chorus expanded their next show in November of 1962 to three performances and sold out each night. It was the first “Showtime” production and the show still carries the name today. “Showtime 62” proved to be a winner with songs from such great musicals as “Kismet”, “Pajama Game”, “West Side Story”, and “Camelot”. The Times review said “Magnificent”, and other plaudits for “Showtime ’62”. The Pekin audience had indeed fallen in love with the great hits from Broadway!
The chorus remained under the direction of Harry Langley until 1983 when after thirty years he decided to retire from directorship. “Showtime ’83” was dedicated to Harry G. Langley for his tireless efforts and dedication to the Pekin Civic Chorus since its founding in 1953.
Changing Hands (’83 – 2000)
Donald J. Valente took over after Langley’s retirement and moved the chorus in a new direction, with more choreography, changes in staging, and a fresh style that produced results the audience appreciated. It was during his direction in 1983 that Sue Venturi-Johnson became involved with PCC as its choreographer.
In September of 1992, the chorus honored its founder, Harry Langley, for his many years as director of the chorus. With the assistance of the Pekin Park District, the chorus dedicated a Meditation Garden near the Pavillion and the lagoon in Pekin Park. Then in 1995, Civic Chorus was again fortunate to obtain the services of an excellent choral director, Sharon Samuels-Reed, who had just assumed the leadership of the P.C.H.S. Cultural Studies Department. Coming from Woodruff High School, Ms. Reed’s first show, “Showtime ’95” showed another uplifting and unique choral style due to her singing background and education.
Soundtrack for a New Century (2000 – Now!)
Pekin Civic Chorus took on another new director in 2000 with Lisa McKenzie, who added even more choreography and movement, exhibiting a new and exciting style in “Showtime 2000”. Lisa’s fast-paced crowd-pleasing show delighted Pekin audiences. Lisa was followed in 2014 and 2016 by Laura Johnson with Michelle Loeffler choreographing and subsequently, Patti Johnson in 2018 with Jennifer Morris choreographing and Debbie Mahoney producing for the 2018 show which thrilled the audiences. In 2020, PCC was sidelined due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But in 2022, we were back stronger than ever, under the direction of Kaleigh Christ, with Liz Waldschmidt as choreographer and Debbie Mahoney as producer. We were shut down in early May, just before the performance dates, again due to an outbreak of COVID within the chorus members. But we resumed after a two-month break to present an outstanding show in August of that year. Now, we are looking forward to Showtime 2024 under the direction of Dr. Jim Rimington. We are excited to work under his leadership. Stay tuned for audition dates and performance dates in 2024!
Civic Chorus has been blessed with many fine accompanists through the years. Barbara Uditsky, Jody Asbell, Carol Harmon, Gayle Wallis, Roslyn Murphy, Jo Summer, and Val Springborn. All have shown fine talents and worked well with their directors, chorus, and soloists.
Reflecting on the Past, Preparing Our Future
January 2024 will mark the end of one era and the beginning of another as our remaining member of the original board and chorus submitted his resignation. George was an icon of Pekin Civic Chorus as well as of our Pekin Community. He was a long-standing singer and soloist who never once balked at some of our crazy antics as evidenced by his memorable performances as a chipmunk, a boy scout, and as a “member of the Village People” singing Y.M.C.A. He will continue to serve on the Executive Board, Emeritus.
Civic Chorus has given back to the community all profits from “Showtimes” since the chorus first realized a profit from their performances. The Norma I. Yock Annual Scholarship was started in 1987 and is given to the P.C.H.S. outstanding music student who is intending to pursue a career in music. In addition to the scholarship, over $225,000 has been given throughout the community to many deserving groups. The Chorus has also donated much of its sheet music to the P.C.H.S. music department.
The present Civic Chorus board and officers are President Jess Wallis, Secretary Cheryl Sullivan, Treasurer Chris Ward, Producer–Debbie Mahoney, Pat Condis, Rusty Dunn, Greg Springborn, Dan Taylor, Mark Wertz with Marcia Jansen, and George Beres – Emeritus. Past members of the board include Norma Yock, John Kriegsman, Roslyn Murphy, Charles Renner, Judith Streid, Fred Vogt, Dick Barker, George Richardson, Mike Monn, Theresa Snell, Ivan Berg, Brandon Burling, Ken White, Ron Sutton, and Don Lutz.
The chorus appeals to all types of people from many backgrounds with a love of choral music, singing, and good fellowship.
Written by George Beres; Additional updates by Debbie Mahoney; 2019, 2023, and 2024.