Our first 75 years
Seventy-five Years of the Toledo Choral Society
For three-quarters of a century, the Toledo Choral Society has been an integral part of the musical life of Toledo, Ohio. The Society has strived to present the finest in classical and contemporary choral music. Its continued existence over the decades, not without struggle nor triumph, attests to the talent and dedication of its three directors and its many members and supporters.
In the Beginning
Choral musical organizations in Toledo had their beginning just after the Civil War with the Toledo Mendelssohn Union, which changed its name to the Toledo Vocal Society in 1879. In 1883, the Toledo Oratorio Society was formed. Begun in mid 1919, the Toledo Choral Society (TCS) was a successor to the Toledo Oratorio Society, which had most recently been under the direction of Herbert Foster Sprague, organist of Trinity Episcopal Church. The Choral Society's first elected director was Mary Katherine Willing, a Toledo native who was deeply immersed in many facets of music in her home city. She won the post after an audition for which she was accompanied by her half -sister, Clara Orwig. Willing would be the catalyst and glue for the Society for 35 years.
Born October 25, 1878, to William and Katherine Welker Willing, Mary came by
music naturally. Her father was a concert pianist, organist, composer, and Mary's first music teacher in her lifelong home at 2307 Monroe Street. At age eight, she began her first music instruction and composed her first waltz. At 13, she appeared in Weber's "Concertstruck." She made her debut as pianist with the Toledo Maen nerchor at Memorial Hall at age 16, and gave a recital the following year. At age 18, she was engaged as organist for St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Toledo. She later also succeeded Charles H. Thompson as choir director at St. Mark's, spending a total of ten years there. During the same time she was the pianist with the Schubert Trio which gave several chamber music concerts each year.
Mary Willing married M.M. Megley in 1908 and retired for a year before taking over as organist for the Central Congregational Church on Collingwood Avenue. She resigned in 1910 to go to Chicago where she directed a large choir at McCabe Memorial M.E. Church for six years. While in Chicago, she made week-end trips to Toledo to teach and oversee classes she had assigned to former pupils Eva and Elsa Clement. She returned to Toledo in 1916, serving as organist at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church for 18 years, then returned to St. Mark's Episcopal Church until her retirement. In addition, she was head of the Music Department at the Smead School for Girls (forerunner of Maumee Valley Country Day School) for 12 years and also taught night classes in music appreciation there. She helped organize and direct nurses' choruses in Toledo's hospitals, composing music for Henry Wadsworch Longfellowl's "The Lady With a Lamp" for a massed chorus.
Mary Willing was involved in many musical organizations in Toledo, helping
organize and serving as an officer in many of them. She was the first president of the Toledo Piano Teacher's Association in 1917, was president of the Ohio Music Teacher's Association, and involved in the Toledo Chapter of the American Guild of Organists, the Ohio Federation of Musical Clubs, the Eurydice Club, the Euterpean Club, the Monday Musicale, and the Samagama Club. She was also a concert pianist and accompanist for many great singers, and was a long-time teacher of piano, organ, harmony, counterpoint, and composition in partnership with her half sister Miss Orwig, who later became a deaconess of the Episcopal church. She also had several other teachers working with her over the years.
In addition to all of her other responsibilities and accomplishments, this petite and vivacious woman was also determined to mold a choral group which would give high quality performances of the best in choral music. Rehearsals having begun in 1919, the Toledo Choral Society gave its first performance on January 27, 1920. It was a performance which became a tradition for the Choral Society, Handel's Messiah, performed by 100 voices and a 16-piece orchestra at Scott High School Auditorium. In April, 1920, the Society gave a concert including "God's Time is Best" (Cantata 106, which will be repeated as part of the 75th anniversary season's Spring Concert), by Bach, and "The Crusaders," by Gade. The final performance of the season was a June 22nd concert version of the opera Carmen, by Bizet, with Sibyl Sammis MacDermid of Chicago as featured soloist. The society was off to a flying start. In the fall of 1920, rehearsals for the second season resounded with the voices of 287 singers.
A letter from Mary Willing Megley to all members of the Toledo Choral Society
dated March 9, 1921, best expresses her personality and her leadership style. In it, she wrote of her plans for rehearsals to finish preparing The Atonement by Coleridge-Taylor for a May 4th concert. She praised the members for their work since January. "The spirit of cooperation and friendliness throughout is inspiring. I am deeply grateful to all and wish to extend my heartiest thanks. The foundation is laid: let us now erect a mighty superstructure! Its height depends upon each and every individual member...lf you have been unable to come regularly and feel that your presence is not missed, please banish the thought immediately, for we want you and need you. Come! Help us raise this wonderful work of music and poetry to the greatest possible heights and make our season end in glorious success.