The mission of the North Carolina Master Chorale is to present exceptional performances of choral music, promote the choral art, and enrich the cultural lives of singers, audiences, artistic communities, and the community at large.

A brief timeline of the North Carolina Master Chorale:

1942: Dr. Harry E. Cooper founded the Raleigh Oratorio Society with “34 selected voices” with the “purpose of presenting with distinction the best known works of the masters.”

1943: First concert performance featured excerpts from Bach’s The Passion According to St. Matthew.

1952: Geraldine Cate is appointed the first woman Music Director for the chorus. She serves in the position until 1959 and returns to the position from 1966-1968.

1971: James Marshall begins 21-year tenure as Music Director.

1982: Organization incorporates under 501(c)(3) federal government status, formally becoming a recognized nonprofit.

1987: The Society makes its Carnegie Hall debut, performing Brahms’ German Requiem.

1991: Organization is awarded the Raleigh Medal of Arts.

1993: Music Director Alfred Sturgis begins his tenure. Within three years’ time, chorus has grown to over 140 members.

1996: The 22-voice chamber choir makes its debut.

1997: Board of Directors hire organization’s first professional administrator, Michelle Hile.

2002: Organization name is changed to North Carolina Master Chorale.

2006: Choirs film the holiday concert “Joy of the Season,” which airs on UNC-TV throughout the state.


In December 1940, the Saint Cecilia Club, a women’s chorus, and an augmented choir of tenors and basses, under the direction of Dr. Harry E. Cooper, broadcast excerpts of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio from an old wooden auditorium on the Meredith College campus to over 125 NBC radio stations nationwide. Dr. Lillian Parker Wallace was accompanist for the 35 piece orchestra. Arrangements for this special broadcast were made by Mrs. Wallace’s son Wesley, who was the station producer for WPTV, an NBC affiliate.

Dr. Cooper resigned as director of the Saint Cecelia Club in1941. Although NBC extended another invitation to the Saint Cecelia Club to sing the Christmas Oratorio in 1941, the Club declined because supporting funds were not easily available. Thus, in September 1942, Dr. Cooper, chairman of the Music Department at Meredith College, invited some of the singers from the Saint Cecilia Club and selected tenors and basses to form the Raleigh Oratorio Society. It was composed of “34 selected voices with replacements being made from time to time by the executive committee.” The Society was formed for the “purpose of presenting with distinction the best known works of the masters.” This continues to be the mission of the Society today.

Dr. Lillian Parker Wallace, who cosigned the letter of invitation, served as assistant conductor and accompanist for the Raleigh Oratorio Society for many years.

The first concert performance included excerpts from Bach’s St. Matthew Passion performed at Church of the Good Shepherd on April 11, 1943. For the next seven years, the Society performed Bach’s Christmas Oratorio in the concert hall in December and/or taped it for radio broadcast over WPTF.

The repertoire of the Society has broadened considerably since those early years of singing only two compositions by Bach. The Society has performed masses, oratorios, motets, cantatas, and a variety of choral music by such composers as Bach, Brahms, Britten, Beethoven Bloch, Durufle, Distler, Faure, Handel, Haydn, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Palestrina, Schubert, Schuetz, Verdi, Vivaldi, and Vaughn Williams.