BEAVER FALLS — After 31 years at the helm, Geneva College music director Bob Copeland says he’s retiring on his own terms.
And that includes the ambitious, hand-picked program he selected for this weekend’s Christmas concerts by the Genevans choir.
The 70-member choir will perform the world premiere of “Shepherds and Angels,” a set of nine old American Christmas songs unearthed by Massachusetts composer Pamela Marshall, whom Copeland met via the Internet, and who will attend both 7:30 p.m. shows, today and Saturday, at the First Presbyterian Church in Beaver Falls.
“Some of the songs are spirituals; some are frontier-gospel hymns and some are Appalachian folk songs,” Copeland said. “The music has a strong traditional flavor, with some spicy harmonies and instrumental interludes.”
“Shepherds and Angels” is the theme of the concerts, which also include works by Handel and Holst, Brahms and Berlin, and two very popular carols given fresh arrangements.
In a nod to the Genevans’ rich tradition, the student choir also will sing “The Carol of the Sheepfold,” arranged in 1941 by Alfred Johnson, director of the Beaver Falls college’s choir in the 1940s and early 1950s.
The Genevans also will tackle “O vos omnes,” aristocrat Don Carlo Gesualdo’s challenging 400-year-old Latin piece that Copeland has been eager to stage. The song will highlight five vocalists — Elise Lundy, Lauren Holmes, Isaac Fritsch, Ian Taylor and Logan Harper — dubbed the Gesualdo Singers.
“I’m excited because this is one of the best choirs I’ve ever had,” Copeland, a 66-year-old Chippewa Township resident, said.
The Genevans’ holiday concerts have been a tradition since 1938. They’ve been conducted since 1981 by Copeland, who along with his wife, Louise, also a Geneva music professor, will be inducted into the Beaver County Musicians’ Hall of Fame in May.
“As you can imagine, Bob is going to be missed greatly here at Geneva and in the community when he retires,” Geneva spokeswoman Cheryl Johnston said.
Copeland will step down after the Genevans’ spring concerts tour, which include New York, New England and Pennsylvania, though it’s the Christmas ones for which he and the choir are best known.
“I told everyone I was going to go out under my own steam, before someone came into my office and asked, ‘Bob, have you ever thought about retiring?’” he said.
Copeland said he hopes the holiday concerts won’t include any fanfare about his retirement. And he’s not adding any surprise moves to his conducting repertoire.
“There are conductors who do ballet routines on the podium,” Copeland said. “I’m not the ballet type.”
Of Geneva's 96 full-time faculty members, 76% have earned doctorates.