Tennessee Valley Interfaith Choir: Encouraging new musicales

MADISON COUNTY – Although the Christmas season in 2022 ended about three months ago, a group of people with little in common have extended the ‘tidings of joy’ from the holiday to their circles of friends and family.

That group materialized as the ‘Tennessee Valley Interfaith Choir’ for a Christmas concert to benefit people in need. The ensemble included three world-famous musicians, a community choir and local dancers.

Individuals challenged John Fellows to organize an event . . . a concert “that would bring the community together and share the love of Jesus Christ during the holiday season,” choir publicist Carolyn Ashcroft said. Ashcroft also serves on the Communication Council of the Madison Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Fellows’ longtime friendship with Jenny Oaks Baker, a Grammy-nominated violinist, persuaded her to add Huntsville as the tenth city on her Christmas tour. After securing this distinguished musician, Fellows “began a spiral of connections to make this concert an actuality,” Ashcroft said.

Fellows worked as Executive Producer with his wife Julia Fellows for logistics, planning, organizing, orchestration and delivery of the “Joy To The World!” concert. Held at the Von Braun Center’s Mark C. Smith Concert Hall, this sacred Christmas benefit concert featured several artists:

* Jenny Oaks Baker & Family Four – Baker, a “Billboard” No.1 recording artist, has released 18 studio albums that sold almost one million copies. As a soloist, Baker has performed at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Library of Congress and as guest soloist with National Symphony and other symphonies.

* Alex Sharpe — Former member of Grammy-nominated Celtic Woman. She has performed on “Dancing With the Stars,” “Regis and Kelly” and “Today.”

* Jason Wright – Bestselling author as recognized in “New York Times,” “Wall Street Journal” and “USA Today.” More than 100 newspapers have published Wright’s work.

* Southern Irish Dance — Directed by Aoibheann O’Brien Barbara, Jenny Marshall and Lily Lansden. The Madison school’s diversity includes team/solo competition and sharing love of Irish dance’s tradition and culture.

* The Dance Company Inc. – Venerable, award-winning school of dance in Madison, owned by Beth Cannon and Julie George. Proper technique is emphasized in classes specialized for preschoolers, along with tap, jazz, acrobatics, contemporary, hip hop, ballet and pointe on advanced levels.

Fellows approached his friend, Jeremy Howe, about organizing an interfaith choir; Howe served as Choir Coordinator. Howe recruited Billy Orton, who had retired as Music Minister of First Baptist Church in Huntsville and Director of Huntsville Community Chorus.

To locate members, Orton emailed an invitation to his database of vocalists. “Billy’s community connections were the biggest contributing factor to the ‘interfaith’ goal of this choir becoming a reality,” Ashcroft said.

The Tennessee Valley Interfaith Choir represented 18 congregations with 140 members and 25 dancers.

“We all have a lot more in common with each other than differences,” Howe said. “The fact that the Interfaith Choir was able to happen, especially in the first Christmas season after COVID, is nothing short of a miracle.”

Choir member Mary Howard said singing with Orton’s direction was “joyous. Our interfaith choir was blessed with this talented director, who challenged us to be better with every practice.”

“The experience of singing with folks that I may otherwise not have had in my circle gave me this opportunity to join in singing religious music,” choir member Kathy Christy said. “Yes, this is a great way to meet others and learn more about the various faith groups in our beautiful city and learn different styles of music and praise.”

“To hear Christmas hymns through awe-inspired musicians and Tennessee Valley Interfaith Choir and dancers was magical and spiritual,” Ashcroft said. “It’s with great hope this might be a beginning of future interfaith choirs and events to come.”

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