J. Elwood Roberts / Mars Hill University Choral Festival

The 66th Annual J. Elwood Roberts--Mars Hill University Choral Festival was held on February 7-8, 2014. Dr. Christopher Aspaas of St. Olaf College was the guest director (Dr. Aspaas directed the Mars Hill Choral Festival in 2009 and we were delighted to have him return for this year’s event). Approximately 330 auditioned high school singers from more than 100 high schools participatee in the Festival Choir.


Choral Festival 2014

The J. Elwood Roberts – Mars Hill University CHORAL FESTIVAL was established in 1949 by the late J. Elwood Roberts as an effort to improve choral music in the high schools of western North Carolina. While in the beginning the “clinic” was comprised of about fifteen schools in the closely-surrounding area, this annual event has grown into one of the premiere choral festivals in North Carolina and, as far as is known, is the longest, continuously-running festival of its type in the southeast and is unique for a private university in the US. Each year more than 700 students from approximately 100 high schools audition for the Festival Choir.

In the early years students were selected by their directors to sing in the choral clinic. Quite often, a double quartet from each high school would participate. As the event continued to grow, reaching a size of 400 non-auditioned singers, it was decided that a better format would be to reduce the size to approximately 325 voices and have the singers audition at selected high school sites. This practice was put into effect for the clinic of 1970. Auditions are held at various sites in October. After being selected, the singers prepare the music and attend one of seven zone rehearsals held in January. With the help of high school zone coordinators this practice has proven very effective.

Guest conductors have included some of the most prominent choral musicians in the United States. Auditions for the 2015 Festival will be announced soon. To request an audition or for more information email: choralfestival@mhu.edu.

J. Elwood Roberts came to Mars Hill College in 1944. He served the music department in several capacities, most notably as an instructor in music theory. He also directed the choir at Mars Hill Baptist Church. Mr. Roberts died in 1966 at the age of 52.