a bit of history
The Kingston High School Choir
Seventy Five Years of Excellence: 1941-2016
The journey of the Kingston High School Choir begins with the founding of Kingston High School in 1915. At that time Glee Clubs were popular in high schools across the nation. These informal singing groups were formed around the common interest of singing. At KHS, two distinct groups emerged: a Glee Club for the gentlemen and a Choral Club for the ladies.
In 1927, a new director of music was appointed at Kingston High School. Under the direction of Mr. Leonard Stine, music education would be permanently changed not only in Kingston, but to the far reaches of New York State. During his forty years, the KHS music department became known throughout the state and region for producing the finest musicians and performances of the highest caliber. A graduate of Ithaca College, Mr. Stine’s primary training was in orchestral music, but his talents as a choral director quickly came to the forefront and his lasting legacy would be in the development of one of the most effective voice training programs at the high school level – the system he developed would become a model for other schools. To this day, the voice class system at KHS is the only remaining sequential vocal training program in the state – students take daily classes and culminate the third year course with a collegiate style recital.
Throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s the foundation was put into place. Mr. Stine started developing the Glee and Choral Clubs by combining the groups for a various productions and performances, and piloted the voice class program. The first musical comedy to grace the stage of KHS in 1929 was All Aboard. Mr. Stine had a particular fondness for Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, and productions of The Mikado (1930), H.M.S. Pinafore (1934) and The Pirates of Penzance (1937) became showcases for the talents of the orchestral and choral groups. Other productions included The Prince of Pilsen (1931), The Red Mill (1932), and The Fortune Teller (1933). A theatrical tradition grounded in solid vocal technique and strong work ethic was established - trademarks of the emerging vocal program that continue to the present day.
In 1935 the combined choral clubs presented the first masterwork in KHS history with a performance of Handel’s Messiah. That year marked the beginning of an increased collaboration between the Glee and Choral Clubs in choral performances and the vision for the future emerged. Not only did Mr. Stine begin to fully develop the voice program during this time, but he began taking students to perform at the elementary schools to foster interest in singing. This idea of a continuous vocal music education was a cornerstone of Choir’s future successes – a powerful connection from elementary through high school with a dedicated faculty, and a comprehensive curriculum (the 1960 edition has 184 pages with detailed instructions for teachers). Everything was now in place and the time was ripe.
It was the 1939-40 school year. Mr. Stine once again decided to combine the choral clubs together into a Mixed Chorus, but for a new purpose - competition. After proving themselves at Regional and State competitions, they were selected to perform at the National Competition in Albany which included the winners from ten other states. The members of the ensemble performed impressively and the future of the KHS Choir was secured.
Upon the start of the 1940-41 school year, Mr. Stine reorganized the choral groups into a Mixed Chorus, and the legendary Kingston High School A Capella Choir. The iconic choir robes were first donned by members in 1941. The first concert of the newly formed A Capella Choir took place on Tuesday, April 22, 1941 at 8:15 P.M. The program was extensive with a total of 15 choir pieces and 8 solos from members who had scored the highest ratings in competition. The repertoire reflected works by Bach, Brahms, Mozart and spirituals arranged by Noble Cain – all highly demanding and challenging pieces.
Once again, Mr. Stine demonstrated to all the musical prowess of the ensemble by securing an A-1 rating at the National Competition in Atlantic City on May 2 & 3, 1941. Three members also earned the highest rating. Six demanding pieces were prepared, and the A Capella Choir performed those numbers with incredible musicianship and power. That year also marked the first Christmas concert broadcast on WKNY.
The A Capella Choir quickly became the most noted high school choir in New York State for demonstrating a level of choral musicianship that exceeded all expectations in each competition entered. Competition adjudicators began using phrases such as, “the finest we ever heard.” The A Capella Choir became a source of local pride with packed concerts, and consistently positive reviews in the local paper. Selection into the group became the highest honor in the school, a most coveted position reserved for only the best. Music educators from across the state began to look to Kingston as a model of vocal music education, as the continuing success of the Choir was in part due to the voice training classes offered. These voice classes taught students a strong technique of singing through daily practice, and an emphasis on solo singing to build confidence in performance. The Choir became known for a mature, advanced tone which was called, “The Kingston Sound” and performed repertoire previously reserved for college and professional choirs. A visit to the KHS Choir Library reveals performances of the most advanced choral music from composers such as Bach, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Copland and numerous others. The Choir continued to have spectacular success and began to travel up and down the eastern seaboard for various competitions and concerts.
When Mr. Stine arrived in 1927 there were roughly 30 students in Glee Club, 40 in Orchestra and 20 in Band. In the 1943 Maroon the following statistics show the incredible accomplishments of this legendary educator: “There are 207 students in the Chorus, 90 in the A Capella Choir, 81 in the Band, and 50 in the Orchestra, making a total membership of 428 in the school musical organizations.” Under his vision and leadership the music program continued to grow dramatically in the 1950’s. In this “Golden Age” of Choir, the ensemble increased in size to over 100 members. No greater honor could be bestowed upon a student – membership in the KHS Choir was without comparison, and to be selected was the most desired position in the school. Concerts were packed, and the community supported the music program unconditionally, demonstrated by the construction of a new state of the art music wing in the late 1950’s with large spaces for all the ensembles. Mr. Stine retired in 1969 after 42 years of teaching – the impact of which can still be felt today.
Mr. Brian Steeves became the second director of the Choir in 1970 and continued in that capacity until 1992. He continued the traditions of demanding repertoire and excellent concerts. The Choir began performing more community concerts such as naturalization ceremonies at the court house, for civic groups including Kiwanis, Lions and Rotary Clubs and at local churches. One of the most important annual Choir events first happened under Mr. Steeves leadership – the first combined holiday concert with the Mendelssohn Club of Kingston. This increased visibility in the community was one of the most important contributions to the development of Choir, and many of those events continue today. In 1990 the first Alumni Choir was formed to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Kingston High School. An extraordinary number of alumni participated including graduates from as far back as 1934. The Alumni Choir would continue to perform annually, and continues to perform at community and civic events. Mr. Steeves was known to be an outstanding educator, and his kindness to all was a hallmark of this extraordinary man.
In 1993 Mr. Paul Scatenato became the third director and continued to build on earlier traditions. His commitment to solid vocal technique and an increased emphasis on music literacy skills were important to the Choir’s ongoing history. Mr. Scatenato began to travel extensively with Choir. The KHS Tiger Marching Band and Choir traveled to Walt Disney World in February 1996 with a full front page story featured in The Daily Freeman. Choir would travel again to Disney World, and also to Ohio, Canada and California. His positive, upbeat and steady teaching style made him a favorite of students, and his commitment to the legacy of Choir was evidenced by continuing the Alumni Choir tradition.
Mr. Lawrence Lohman became the choir director in the fall of 2004. His grandmother and mother were both in the A Capella Choir under the legendary Mr. Stine. Having grown up with stories about Choir, he made a commitment to continue the excellence of his predecessors. The first masterwork concert with Woodstock Chamber Orchestra was performed in May of 2006 in which the Vivaldi Gloria was presented. The KHS Choir continued to perform the masterworks of Bach, Brahms, and Haydn for six years with master teacher and conductor David Leighton. In May of 2012 the Choir combined for the first time with members of KHS Band and Orchestra to perform the Vivaldi Gloria yet again, but now completely with student performers. The Masterwork Ensemble continues to provide students with this advanced experience having recently completed a trilogy of Verdi pieces including selections from the opera Aida, the Te Deum, and the Requiem.
Under Mr. Lohman’s direction the Choir has performed at Riverside Church, The Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall. The Choir continues the tradition of excellence started by Leonard Stine.
Lawrence D. Lohman