A History of the Lawrence Civic Choir

by Gloria Follett, Historian

The tradition of singing fine choral music in the greater Lawrence community dates to the 1920’s with the founding of the Lawrence Choral Union. In 1975, the musical heritage of the city was given new life by a group of enterprising local musicians who formed the Lawrence Civic Choir. Independent of one another, Tom Wilcox and Dave Grisafe were considering forming an adult chorus to sing and perform masterworks of choral repertoire. Once they got together the Lawrence Civic Choir became a reality. And for the past 41 years the group has presented 2 major concerts each year, including our 40th Anniversary Gala performance of Brahm’s Requiem at the Lied Center.

Dr. Leslie Adams of the University of Kansas became the first choir director. Singers came from local churches and schools, the University of Kansas, Baker University, and surrounding communities. The ninety member choir performed its first concert at Haskell Junior College (now Haskell Indian Nations University) on April 6, 1975. Two weeks later they repeated the cconcert to a full house in the old Carnegie building. The hard work and dedication of the musicians resulted in accolades from appreciative audience members. The Lawrence Civic Choir had made a highly successful debut and would rapidly become an integral part of the arts community in Lawrence and northeast Kansas.

The choir was incorporated as a non-profit organization and registered with the state of Kansas on June 3, 1976. The Articles of Incorporation were amended in February 1980. The mission of the choir is to foster and promote the development and appreciation of choral music in Lawrence and Douglas County by performing choral musical productions and concerts. The choir fulfills its mission through performances, tours, and scholarship awards.

More than a hundred singers provide a richness and diversity of talent which enables the LCC to undertake a rigorous and challenging repertoire. Many of the Choir’s concerts have been joint productions with other Lawrence groups, including  the Kansas Brass Quintet, the Lawrence Symphony Orchestra, the Lawrence Chamber Players, the Lawrence Chamber Orchestra,  and now the Lawrence Community Orchestra.

The choir’s European tours and “Sister City” connections have promoted cultural exchange. Under the auspices of Friendship Ambassadors, the Choir traveled to Poland in 1980 and to Austria and Romania in 1986, bringing goodwill and hope to audiences behind the Iron Curtain. Other tour destinations have included Austria and Hungary in 1990, England and Wales in 1993, Eutin, Germany (Lawrence’s Sister City), Prague and Vienna in 1996, and Italy in 1999. Several of these tours included “home-stays” with local musicians and their families, creating bonds of friendship, and a deeper appreciation of each others’ cultural heritages. In June 2000, a group of singers from Hiratsuka, Japan (another sister city) joined our choir in concert. Again, “home stays” with our choir members provided opportunities for learning and sharing cultural experiences.

The choir represented Kansas in concert at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, in October 2001. The LCC also performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City in June 2004. In 2008, the choir toured western and central Kansas, singing at the Cathedral of the Plains in Victoria, the First Presbyterian Church in Pratt, and at the First United Methodist Church in Council Grove. In 2010, the choir traveled to Colorado to sing at the Hyde Chapel at the YMCA camp in Estes Park. Choir members spent time sightseeing in Colorado, and they were invited to sing several songs during the Sunday morning service at the U.S. Air Force Academy Cadet chapel. The choir traveled to St. Louis, Missouri in 2012, singing concerts at the Manchester United Methodist Church, the University City Methodist Church and an impromptu performance at the St. Louis Basilica.

In November 2014, the choir was recognized by the Lawrence Arts Commission and awarded the distinguished Phoenix Arts Award for Performance.

To encourage and support the development and higher education of young singers, the choir established a scholarship program open to graduating high school seniors in Lawrence.  To date twenty-nine scholarships have been awarded. The list of scholarship winners can be found on this page .

Since its 1975 debut, the choir has enjoyed exceptional professional leadership.

Leslie Adams (University of Kansas), inaugural concert in 1975
Lewis Tilford (Lawrence High School), 1975-76
Maribeth Kirchhoff Crawford (University of Kansas), 1976-83
Leon Burke III, 1983-84
Patricia Boyd, pops concert, June 1983
George Lawner (University of Kansas), fall 1984
Daniel Politoske (University of Kansas), spring 1985
John Buehler (Baker University), 1985-90
Joel Panciera (First United Methodist Church), 1990-93
Robert Reid (First United Methodist Church), 1993-2002
Steve Eubank (Topeka High School), 2002-present

The success of the choir is due in no small part to the dedication and talents of the accompanists, including Winifred Gallup, Jan Bays, Tammy Lydon, Mike Boring and Geoff Wilcken. Their fine musicianship and enthusiastic support of the LCC has facilitated our learning the music each semester, and often enhanced the performances as well.

The choir added Cabaret concerts to its repertoire in May 2009, with a sell-out performance at Maceli’s. The choir then staged Cabaret concerts again in 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2016, moving the venue to Liberty Hall and adding silent auctions to the event to help meet operating expenses.

Over the years, individuals serving on the LCC board of directors and other volunteers have contributed to the choir’s success.  The “behind the scenes” tasks of organizing and keeping track of our library of choral music, ordering choir apparel, and maintaining the financial, membership, and donor records has recently been simplified by volunteers who brought LCC into the computer age.

Because the LCC is a non-profit organization that keeps its enrollment fees affordable, it has had a number of fund-raising events and solicitations. Early on, choir members sold laundry detergent and poinsettia plants. Now, grocery gift cards from Checkers, The Merc Co-op, Dillon’s and Hy-Vee help raise money. Without the support of these businesses and our loyal donors, the cost of our semester fees would increase. We sincerely appreciate the financial support we receive. Thank you.

Updated April, 2015 by Jean Milstead and Andi Parson. Updated August 2016 by Joan Pease and Andi Parson