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November 22, 2012 12:10 am


Alexander Smith directs the group during a show at the Concert in Lights at the Village at Towne Centre. we1122spotsylvanians1.jpg

The Spotsylvanians are celebrating their 10th anniversary as a choir this year.




Energy, energy, energy.

That's the motto The Spotsylvanians' director Alexander Smith coined for the community chorus. And while Smith has been music conductor for the group for only a few seasons, it's a fitting motto for an organization that has been going strong for 10 years.

"I think it's the enthusiasm and friendliness of the group that keeps us going," said longtime member John Haskins.

The chorus will present its 10th annual Christmas Candlelight Concert on Dec. 8 and 9 at Spotsylvania Middle School.

The concert is traditionally known as the group's free gift to the community.

"We're not in this to make money or prove to the world that we can sing arias," Haskins explained. "Our mission is just to bring good-quality choral music to the community. We're not professionals, just singers from all walks of life, and together we think we sound pretty good!"

Of The Spotsylvanians' 50 voices, 11 have been with the group from the beginning, when founding conductor Bob Estes placed an ad asking for people interested in forming a community chorus. Some of the charter members were looking for activities to share with their husbands and wives; some were lifelong singers in search of a new musical home.

Charter member Dot Abula described the excitement she felt permeating the fledgling group.

"We just wanted to do something for the community, something that would make everyone in the area happy," she explained.

That sense of a mission kept The Spotsylvanians going through the death of its original conductor and a tense period during which a chunk of its membership left to form a new singing group.

"That was tough for us, but we came back really well," Haskins said.

Part of that recovery was assisted by Stephen Burton, a longtime professor of music at the University of Mary Washington who took over direction of The Spotsylvanians after the split. Burton was dying of pancreatic cancer, but wanted to spend the time he had left with the group.

Abula described the time with Burton as perhaps her most memorable experience with The Spotsylvanians.

"We needed him and he needed us," she said. "He just wanted to end his life with music. And he did it so beautifully. He knew he wasn't going to make it, but he made everything good and warm for us.

"And he brought in this fabulous person, Alexander Smith!"

Under Smith's direction, the quality of The Spotsylvanians' singing is much better than it was originally, charter member Keith Brown said.

"Alex is a much more serious, dedicated conductor," he said. "The last year or two and particularly last spring were particularly outstanding. The concerts brought tears to my eyes."

Smith said he has tried to bring a young, fresh and very contemporary approach to the group.

"I'm trying to take them in a new direction, to keep up with what other choirs outside of the area are doing," he said. "And they've been right on board!"

Smith said his goal is for The Spotsylvanians to be the premier vocal group in the area.

"I want people to hear the name and think, 'What a fantastic choir,'" he said. "And I think we're heading that way. As they've gotten used to my direction, the concerts have been over-the-top, incredibly performed."

This year's eclectic Christmas concert includes --in addition to traditional carols--an a cappella processional, a Christmas salute to Broadway, some gospel tunes and a West Indian spiritual that Smith says is rarely performed.

"I think that if people come to our Christmas concert, they'll be blown away," Smith said.

Adele Uphaus-Conner is a Fredericksburg-area writer.

What: The Spotsylvanians 10th Anniversary Christmas Candlelight Concert When: Saturday, Dec. 8, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 9, at 3 p.m.

Where: Spotsylvania Middle School, 8801 Courthouse Road, Spotsylvania

Cost: Admission is free. Info: 540/582-8541;

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