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Volume 24, Number 10 — November 2017

Beth McCoy is a huge influence on local musicians

Beth McCoy
Beth McCoy

By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | April 26, 2017

It's difficult to listen to any music in the region without hearing the influence of Beth McCoy, whether it's one of her compositions or the myriad students she has taught. You may even hear them internationally, as McCoy did. She was on vacation when she discovered that two of her former students were singing the leads in Mozart's"The Magic Flute"in the Operafestival di Roma. She managed to get a front row seat for their performance. She calls it one of the highlights of her career.

Her career spans 41 years of teaching and composing. She taught private students and was the choir director at Patrick Henry High School, Glade Spring, Virginia. She was the music director for Pleasant View United Methodist Church, Abingdon, Virginia, and helped revitalize the East Tennessee Children's Choir, which she grew into the Mountain Empire Children's Choral Academy. Every program she touched expanded and inspired more musicians.

"I loved directing the choral program at PHHS, and it seems I must have done several innovative things that make the alumni celebrate with annual reunions to reminisce.The highlight was co-creating with Dr. Terry Griffin a musical based on Gilbert & Sullivan music that we titled "Three Little Grads From Patrick Henry,'" she says.

At Pleasant View she continued the trend. By the time she left, she was directing a children's hand chime choir, a children's choir, a youth choir, a junior high and a senior high hand bell choirs, an adult choir, an adult hand bell choir, an occasional orchestra and an occasional Bible-based dinner drama.

"While I was directing my 60-voice children's church choir, Laura Ann Warner subbed for my accompanist. She was the chairman of the board of the East Tennessee Children's Choir, which had been looking for a new director since Carl King had resigned after chartering it in 1987 and directing for three years. The board asked me to become their new artistic director and to re-establish the program. This is the highlight of my career. The choir, like my church choirs, swelled to 60+ children in no time. Parents brought their children from Morristown and Marion, Lebanon and Mountain City to sing in the ETCC. We began singing in all kinds of venues, collaborating with other music entities, commissioning composers to write for the ETCC, and traveling all over the Tri-Cities singing," she says.

Highlights of her time with ETCC include being selected as the premier professional regional choir to sing in the American Composers Forum "Continental Harmony" Millennium Project in 2000. The composition for the ETCC was written by California composer Daniel Kingman and titled "Appalachian Harmony." For this musical endeavor, the choir swelled to 95 children. The ETCC was also singing annually with the Johnson City Symphony and the Symphony of the Mountains as well as for the Biltmore Estates Christmas Candlelight Tours.

"The result of a successful music program is that the grads want to continue. And so, the Highlands Youth Ensemble began with only a few singers.But as the HYE grew, it also received invitations from the symphonies and the Biltmore, and I realized the two choirs needed to be under a newly created entity with a new charter.The ETCC board and I worked countless hours transforming its charter into the Mountain Empire Children's Choral Academy and pursuing my complete vision by adding chorister choirs as well. What you see and hear today is the result of my vision for a comprehensive program: the MECCA Choristers for first through third graders, the ETCC for upper elementary/junior high and the HYE for senior high singers — a musical mecca for singers in the Tri-Cities area.

"Proof of true accomplishment for me was seeing a child start out almost too shy to audition for the ETCC and, as he gained confidence and vocal ability, hearing him sing a much coveted solo in a national honor choir on the Lila Cockrell Stage, San Antonio, Texas. Many years we had more children and youth selected to sing in National Honor Choirs of the Organization of America Kodály Educators than any other choral program across the United States," she says.

McCoy says she owes a lot to people who helped her along the way. She credits Laura Ann Warner, who was her mentor in helping to reignite the ETCC. She also mentions ETCC board member Lauretta Lynn-Merrill, Sarah Kyle Davis for finding grants and Kenton Coe, who wrote music for the ETCC to premiere, Dr. Pat Flannagan for encouraging women composers with concert opportunities, fellow members of the Greater Tri-Cities Area Composer's Consortium for their excitement about our original music, Tom Corum, David Hendricksen, Nancy Hopson and Jane Morison.

McCoy's other passion is composing. "I have always felt the urge to compose music. My piano teacher took a dim view, saying, "Beth, men compose; women interpret.' Fortunately, that was just a red flag in front of this bull. I started composing piano pieces in high school, took composition classes in college and began writing choral music for my PHHS choir. I wrote utility music for my church choirs. The ETCC and the HYE gave me many occasions to write for them. Highlights of my composing endeavors include setting "The Snow Lay On the Ground' for the ETCC. When a choir member took it to the director of Gloria Dei Cantores (who sings with the Boston Pops), they recorded it on their Christmas CD. Other accomplishments include writing Mass in A minor and having it recorded by the HYE; being commissioned by the Johnson City Area Arts Council to write a musical for the ETCC titled "The Ghost of Featherstone Castle and Other Tales of the Border Country"; having my music published by ALRY, Abingdon, Hinshaw and Leonard; being commissioned by numerous entities including King University, Morningstar Flute Ensemble and the Greater Tri-Cities Area Composers' Consortium; and most recently hearing The Paramount Chamber Players and Bella Voce of HYE perform my commissioned work, "Celtic Suite.'"

McCoy has received two Presidential Citations for Outstanding Educators from the University of Richmond, the Conductor's Award from the Johnson City Symphony Orchestrain 2000, the Composer of the Year Award from the Appalachian Music Teachers Associationin 2001, the Bristol YWCA's "Tribute to Women Award" in the Arts categoryin 2003 and the Emory & Henry College Alumni Association's Distinguished Achievement Awardin 2009.

"Working with children and youth taught me the importance of music in my life and in the lives of the young people I loved and taught. I call it the "tah-dah' experience. If I can help every singer become so confident they can stand on any stage, throw up their arms, and sing "tah-dah,' then I have succeeded. Whether teaching them private piano or voice or directing a school, church or regional choir, I found that teaching them music brought out the best in them, taught them self-discipline, confidence and a joie de vivre that only having a song in your heart can create.

"Choir is the only team "sport' where no one sits on the bench and everyone gets to win in a non-competitive activity. Choir teaches appreciation both of music and of musical talent, courage, commitment, compassion, dependability, fairness and faithfulness. The singers learn to be flexible, develop friends for life and develop patience and persistence, self-control and trustworthiness. All this at the same time their audiences are deeply moved by the experience of hearing beautiful voices singing classics-to-modern music. I always said I was the luckiest person to get to stand in front of a choir, help them make beautiful music and have their audiences thrill to the sounds. It's a win-win-win.

"I have been involved in the arts all my life. I was trying to play melodies on the piano before I could reach the keys. My mother was a first grade teacher, so I have always been involved in education. It was only natural that I chose to major in music and that gets you involved in the arts automatically. And majoring in music education combines the arts and teaching. I tried being a library reference assistant for four years and just knew I had to get back into music. Life was not complete without music," she says.

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