Male voices that, over decades, inspired audiences from Columbia to Europe were quieted recently. It appeared Palmetto Mastersingers had performed its last concert. Perhaps the long-esteemed all-male chorus tradition had fallen prey to other forms of music.
Then, through the chorus membership, a rumble emanated. “If there is handwriting on the wall, let’s give one more concert, and make it a reunion. We will bring back voices from former years, and we will make it unforgettable. Only then can we decide,” the members said – in perfect harmony.
Dr. Lillian Quackenbush stepped up to the challenge of conducting the musical ambassadors. The singers have been rehearsing diligently under her direction at St. Andrews Baptist Church, where the reunion concert will be given Friday, May 12 at 7:30 p.m.
Holding the musicians in check is the invisible yet indomitable spirit of their founder. Beginning in 1983 when Arpad Darazs set in motion this all-male choral group, the singers enjoyed packed houses, critical acclaim, media coverage, and loyal camaraderie developed during rehearsals and performances, as well as travel – including international – for competitive events.
Darazs laid his conductor’s baton down on a Carolina Coliseum podium in December 1986. He had left his sick bed to lead that Christmas concert. “We learned later he had an IV in his dressing room,” recalled Boyd Saunders. “He was fighting leukemia and needed a transfusion just to get through the performance. He returned to the hospital after the encore and slipped away a few days later.”
Long before he came to Columbia to lead the University of South Carolina Choir, Darazs laid his baton down in a similarly dramatic turn in his life. Ben Cliatt recalls the story.
“He had conducted a performance of the Hungarian National Chorus, I think it was in Vienna,” Cliatt said. “While the applause was still thundering, Darazs slipped out a side door and walked to the American Embassy.” Saunders explained: “He defected from his native country amid the Anti-Communist Hungarian uprising of 1956.”
“While he was making his way out of the country, his family came out through the countryside and walked across the border,” said Cliatt, a founding member who took a long sabbatical and came back singing in 2009.
In a well-rehearsed scenario, the Darazs family reconnected and began its journey to America. “By the time their ship passed in front of the Statue of Liberty, the story goes, Arpad was leading passengers aboard in singing the American National Anthem,” Saunders recounted. The Darazs family arrived in the port of New York in January 1957.
Before being recruited in 1966 by the University of South Carolina to lead the institution’s choruses, Darazs was conductor of a children’s choir at St. Killian’s School in Farmingdale, NY.
After leading numerous choral groups at USC and in the community, in 1981, he founded Palmetto Mastersingers and led this all-male chorale to local, state-wide, regional, national and international acclaim.
The reunion concert will feature a variety of music including an arrangement of “Ode to Arpad” which founding member Robert Kneece wrote with Brantley Cox.
For ticket information, visit www.Palmettomastersingers.org.