In the spring of 1962, I had three months of training at Sidney Lanier High School in Montgomery, doing practice teaching with a lady named Merl McCorkle, in the Singing Department. This proved to be a super experience under an outstanding music teacher, and it was there that I got a real taste of a “Show Choir.”
The next school year, I was hired to start a new music program at Randolph County High School. There were classes for a senior high school choir as well as a junior choir. It seems that students were starving for the chance to participate in choral activity and I acquired some large groups with very cooperative students. (After the first year at Randolph County High School, we added music instruction at Woodland and Wadley schools.)
My choral groups at RCHS were very large, and with eager students and great backing from parents, I made plans for a big spring concert in 1963, complete with stage, scenery and costumes. This was naturally patterned after Merl McCorkle’s Show Choir, and Mrs. McCorkle even gave me a huge backdrop to use on stage. She also came to the concert. This humble concert, though with my limited experience, was successful and accepted by the school community.
For various reasons, I left Randolph County Schools and took a position as director of music at Southern Union State Junior College where I taught music theory, piano, voice and choir. The first year I had 12 people in the choir. A few more students were added year after year until 30 or more signed up for choir during the following years. There was no Show Choir yet because there was no place to have a show. Our first music programs were held in the lobby of the Administration Building and sometimes at the entrance to the Science Building. J. T. Edge, business manager, found one old microphone in the Learning Center and rigged up a sound system for me. Pat Salatto and others helped with chairs and did other jobs to help with the programs.
A new auditorium was built soon after I went to Southern Union and we initiated a big recruitment program. We were now able to put on music shows and host music concerts. Music scholarships were made available through several sources, which included a concession booth at basketball games, dinner dances with live entertainment held in the cafeteria, donations and merchandise sales.
The development of the Show Choir at Southern Union certainly does not discredit the music department before I arrived. There were some outstanding professors of music, and they had small ensembles that performed at the college and in the community. One professor was a retired opera singer. Some even volunteered their services when the college was struggling during hard times.
When the music department got too big for me to handle, we added another music teacher, Ann Boyd Harmon, who took over the Show Choir. We also added a small instrumental ensemble. She worked with the choir, ensemble and taught voice. I taught the classes for music majors, did the musicals and operas and continued recruiting for the college.
The Show Choir flourished, and there were Christmas concerts and spring concerts every year. The events became sell-outs and shows started running for four consecutive evenings. The enrollment in chorus continued to increase.
I retired after 18 years at Southern Union and became a concert attendee instead of a teacher. Harmon used solos, ensembles, full chorus and instruments in her productions, and there was something for everyone in the audience to enjoy. At one of her concerts, I had the opportunity to hear a young man sing a solo which really got my attention. I wrote a review of that concert for the Randolph Leader and I mentioned that young man, saying that I predicted a fruitful future for him, based on what I had heard him do on that stage.
I did not keep up with this student after that time and had all but forgotten about him. Some years passed and I was told that he had finished college with a doctorate degree. Harmon retired soon after that and the person that I am talking about became director of music at SUSCC. His name is Trey Rayfield, and he is carrying on the traditional “Show Choir” that got its roots back in 1962 from McCorkle in Montgomery, Alabama. Dr. Rayfield’s concerts are extraordinary and I am hoping that his work at Southern Union State Community College will continue for many, many years.
Southern Union’s Music Department will present its annual Spring Show “Home Sweet Home” on April 20 through 22 at Brazeal Auditorium on Southern Union’s Wadley campus. Tickets are now available at a cost of $10 each, and can be purchased online by visiting suscc.edu.
Southern Union is the second oldest community college in Alabama and is celebrating its centennial this year.