It all started in the fall of 1965 when twelve members of the Wednesday Morning Music Club—including its president, Phyllis Varner—decided they wanted to see more of one another, and maybe try some singing. The women began gathering in one another’s homes two mornings a month, borrowing music from local libraries for soprano and alto voices. Four months later, they had a name (the Wednesday Morning Choral Group), a director (the redoubtable Mrs. Varner), and gave their premiere performance, for the Music Club (still going strong as the Williamsburg Music Club). They were, of course, a hit.
By spring 1966, the Wednesday Morning Choral Group had attracted more members and more attention: they performed for the Woman’s Club of Williamsburg and in the Wren Chapel at the College of William & Mary. Still, they were strictly a volunteer organization: neither the director nor accompanists were paid, and all their sheet music was borrowed; none was bought. Those members who remember the early days agree that the Group’s momentum and success were due in large part to the gifted and inexhaustible Phyllis Varner, who died in 2014, and whose late husband was the longtime band director at William & Mary. Phyllis taught choral music in public school, had private piano and voice students, was a soloist with the Williamsburg Choral Guild, and composed music both for solo piano and for voices, including a trio of songs based on poems of Christina Rossetti, which the Group premiered and we reprised at our 50th anniversary spring concert. Phyllis led the Group for five years, after which Doris Corley took over and renamed it the Williamsburg Women’s Chorus. She was followed by Charlene Ward (1974-1983), Linus Ellis (1983-1992), Cindy Freeman (1992-2005), Ann Porter (2005-2015), Rob Keene (2016), and Rebecca Davy (2016-present).
Today the Chorus is over fifty women strong. Some things have changed: new members are asked to sing a few bars before joining, and all members pay dues to underwrite salaries for the director and pianist, and to buy new music (there’s just so much you can get from the library). We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization—donations to which, by the way, are fully tax-deductible and oh, so rewarding!—and have grown too large to meet in members’ homes. But what has not changed is the sisterhood and joy we generate by gathering every week to unite our voices in glorious, spirited song. May it be ever so!