Even though David and I have participated in KHS since its inception, we both admit that we never had any awareness of each other. This realization set the tone for our examination of what is unique about KHS — and the possibilities for the future of the society.
David is well-connected both locally and state-wide, particularly in church music. He was born in Knoxville and graduated from Doyle High School in 1980. He will soon celebrate his 35th reunion with his class from Carson Newman College where he received a bachelor’s degree in church music with an emphasis on voice and choral conducting. In 1985, he married Cindy, a soprano in KHS. Their daughter, Sarah, lives in Chicago where she works in the music industry; their son, Andrew, and his family live in Knoxville where Andrew is general manager and the director of training for the Buddy’s Barbecue.
“We all come to the Handel Society from different walks. It is the job of the leadership team to take this assembled throng and make a choir.” ~ David Smith, Co-Assistant Conductor, Knoxville Handel Society.
While David studied Church Music at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, a church in Western Kentucky persuaded him to accept a call. Three years later, he returned to the Seminary while serving First Baptist Church in Brandenburg, Kentucky. He calls this his “exodus from Tennessee.” After returning to Knoxville in 1992, he sang under the direction of Wendell Boertje at Central Baptist Church in Bearden and directed an 18-voice auditioned ensemble. After Wendell retired in 2010, David served as interim minister of music and obtained a masters from The Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies.
Since 2013, David has served as associate pastor for music and worship at Valley Grove Baptist Church. He leads a youth choir, instrumental ensemble and a 50-member adult choir. He challenges singers to strive for excellence, confident that “only a little extra effort separates excellence from mediocrity.” He has high expectations of the groups he directs, especially in the sacred context.
Even though David meets every criteria to be called a “musician,” he describes himself as a well-rounded man who values family (especially Thursdays with his granddaughter, Gracie) and community. He enjoys individual sports, such as fishing, as well as team sports, and has served several seasons as the public announcer for Tennessee baseball.
In addition to singing, David extends his time talents and gifts to include the responsibilities of conducting and administrative tasks of KHS because he loves the art of choral singing and has “a sense of accomplishment when the work is finally presented.” For him, music is worship and he offers God his best just as he encourages the musicians under him. He is confident that “from these shared experiences, community is built.” He particularly welcomes his new teammate, Elizabeth, and he shares her optimism for the future of the Knoxville Handel Society.
“I have great confidence in Wendell as a leader and as a teacher. I feel safe as a musician knowing that he is going to lead us.”
~ Elizabeth Eaker, Co-Assistant Conductor of Knoxville Handel Society.
In the fall of 2018, I encouraged my friend, Elizabeth, to allow me to introduce her to Don King, Co-Music Director of the Knoxville Handel Society. She admitted that she was tempted to ask to sing in the concert since she had sung with Dr. Everett McCorvey, Director of the American Spiritual Ensemble, when she was pursuing her Masters in Music in Choral Conducting at the University of Kentucky in 2003-2004.
Elizabeth and her husband Chris are sensitive to the need for balance, both in their lives and in the lives of their family and friends. They recognized that her professional commitments at that time did not leave space for the intense rehearsal necessary for Handel Society. They mutually agreed to “make it work” for Elizabeth to join the choir in the spring, assuming she might be invited.
Elizabeth had received her Bachelor’s in Music from UT in 1996. She taught choral music at Bearden Middle School from 1997 until 2014 when her son, Luke, was born. Since then, she has balanced pursuing her professional interests with full-time mothering. Some of her opportunities include 2015-2018 teaching musical theater part-time in a dance studio; and directing theater music for the Word Players in both 2016 and 2018. Since 2016 she has enjoyed leading home school choirs.
Like most members of the Handel Society, Elizabeth has many options to spend her time, energy and talent. She said that she strives to do the “best thing, not just the supposedly needed thing.” In that context, she chose Knoxville Handel Society. She said that she immediately recognized that “this choir is going places and I want to be part of it.”
As much as she enjoys teaching and conducting, she never wants to walk away from singing herself. She emphasizes that the works performed by the Handel Society “feed my soul”.
When Wendell Boertje, Director of the Handel Society, asked for volunteers to serve as assistants, Elizabeth recognized the importance of the conductor’s role. Leading a choir at this level requires more than one person.
Without the charismatic vision of Don King, the choir will need to regroup–making this the perfect time for Elizabeth to join the leadership team. With her professional skills, experience and deep commitment to balance, she is poised to make a significant impact on the group. She never forgets that music, especially sacred music, is beautiful and that singing should be fun. Joy radiates from her and it is contagious.
Our most recent concert at the beautiful First Baptist Church was, in many ways, the bittersweet realization of the vision of Knoxville Handel Society co-founders Don King and Wendell Boertje.
That vision has included the presentation of major choral works like Messiah (Parts II and III) with Guest Conductor Don Neuen; Haydn’s Creation, directed by Boertje; a program of spirituals with American Spiritual Ensemble soloists, directed by ASE director Everett McCorvey; great hymns and anthems from diverse traditions.
On April 28, 2019, Knoxville Handel Society members sang with full and heavy hearts as they, accompanied by organ, full orchestra, and bagpipes, presented How Great Thou Art: Glorious Hymns & Classical Anthems mere days after the passing of Don King, their beloved, energetic co-director who lovingly planned every detail of the concert.
From the opening procession of the piper, the wide-ranging musical selections, with audience participation in heritage hymns, the souls of all present were stirred in a beautiful tribute to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!
Tears flowed in sadness and gratitude as we rested in the beauty of the evening.
(This description was written by a participating member of Knoxville Handel Society.)
How Great Thou Art | Glorious Hymns and Classical Anthems | April 28, 2019 at 6:00 PM
Venue: 510 W Main Street, Knoxville TN 37902.
Knoxville Handel Society anticipates the vocal command of the featured soloists: John Wesley Wright, tenor; Jeryl Cunningham-Fleming, soprano; Kevin Thompson, bass; and Hope Koehler, soprano. All four soloists perform with the American Spiritual Ensemble, and are featured in performances internationally.
John Wesley Wright, Tenor
John Wesley Wright, tenor
Tenor John Wesley Wright, D.M.A., is known for his soulful interpretations of music from baroque to Broadway. Holding degrees from Maryville College and the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Dr. Wright is a native of Rome, Georgia and coordinates the voice and opera programs at Salisbury University in Maryland.
Hope Koehler, Soprano
Hope Koehler, soprano
Born in Chattanooga, Dr. Koehler has Tennessee connections. She received her B.A. degree from Lipscomb University in Nashville. Dr. Koehler received graduate degrees, Master of Music in Voice Performance from University of Alabama; and D.M.A. from University of Kentucky. Her voice has been described as having “the richness of Marilyn Horne at the bottom and the clarion clarity of Leontyne Price at the top.” Dr. Koehler is currently Associate Professor and Coordinator of Voice Studies at West Virginia University.
Kevin Thompson, bass
Kevin Thompson, bass
Singing throughout the world, Mr. Thompson is at home both on the opera and concert stage. “The excitement his performances generate has captured international attention: a voluminous bass with exquisite overtone-rich timbers and rafter-shaking sonority.” A native of Washington, D.C., Mr. Thompson is a graduate of The Juillard School. Knoxville Opera featured him as Ramfis in the May 2018 performance of Aida.
Jeryl Cunningham-Fleming, soprano
Ms. Cunningham-Fleming is a regular soloist and Assistant Director with the American Spiritual Ensemble. Her repertoire encompasses opera, oratorio, choral masterworks, jazz, and art song. Interpretation of the African American spiritual is a high point of her artistry. Ms. Cunningham-Fleming received her bachelor’s degree in vocal performance at Oakwood University. She obtained her master’s degree in vocal performance at Mannes College of Music; and has completed a doctoral degree at the University of Kentucky.