Take about 50 voices, add a helping of dance steps, a generous dash of humor, and stir well. Let it mellow for about 25 years and you have created the Forty Niners Chorus.
In 1952, sixteen members of the Forty Niners Club of the First Presbyterian Church of West Chester, PA, called on Dr. Ward Remington to direct a Christmas musical program they were planning. Just a one shot deal everyone thought; but the show was so well received and performers' enthusiasm so contagious that a second show was called for, and a third, and a fourth. Today, that group has grown to a community chorus.
Typically, the choristers are family people with an interest in music, a sense of fun and an obvious delight in performing quickly caught by their listeners. In private life they are housewives, nurses, college professors, secretaries, farmers, teachers, ministers and accountants. On stage, they may appear as hippopotami, convicts, angels, cowboys, candy canes, robots or dancing mailboxes. Their wholehearted enjoyment of each other’s company and of what they are doing is infectious. They are "fun people" and audiences love them.
The Christmas show, which brought the group into being, has become a West Chester tradition eagerly anticipated by performers and public alike. Entirely conceived, staged and produced by chorus members, it is offered five times early in December as a Christmas gift to the community. The shows are completely new each year and are based on approximately twenty five choral and specialty numbers. This gift delights several thousand each year.
So many invitations poured in to sing throughout the year that a second annual production was created. The highlight of the Spring season is the "Sing and Swing" in late April, when the show is presented first.
In 1973, the West Chester Chamber of Commerce presented the Chorus with the J. Dewees Mosteller Award for its outstanding contributions to the community. Soon afterward, the Chorus established its own award, given now to two seniors in the West Chester High Schools, who choose to continue their education in music. The Dr. Ward J. Remington Award honors Mr. Forty Niner himself, who retired from the Chorus in 1973, and is presented to a Henderson High School student. The Phyllis Remington Award is presented to a student at East High School.
The Chorus continued under the capable direction of Mr. Herbert Balian, a well-known man of music in the area. During his years, the Chorus built on its tradition of professional excellence and audience appeal, which has been its trademark. In 1989 Mrs. Kristin J. McGuckin took over the leadership, with great success, judging from the audience and chorus reactions. Kris directed the chorus until 2002, when she took a well deserved two year break from directing. Christine Ruch served as director for two years, 2002-2004, until she moved out of the area. Well rested and ready to get back into action, Kris McGuckin took the reins again as the 49ers searched for a new director. In the fall of 2006, Greg Givler began his tenure as director of the chorus.
It's fun to look back, but the Forty Niners' outlook has always been straight ahead... to the next performance, the next audience, the next adventure. The Forty Niners have performed at the Miss Pennsylvania Pageant, the 1964 New York World's Fair, on the Music Pier at Ocean City, Florida's Walt Disney World, and Convention Hall in Cape May. They have sung frequently at Longwood Gardens, area retirement communities and for Concert in the Park series, as well as many banquets and charitable events. The Chorus has sung the National Anthem for the Philadelphia Phillies and the Wilmington Blue Rocks as well as for the annual naturalization ceremony at the Chester County Court House. In 1975, thirty-six members of the Chorus traveled to Rumania for a three week concert tour and learned that a smile and a song are the same the world over. In 1994 the Chorus toured Germany and Austria, and in 1999 Scandinavia was the destination.
Times have changed and the Forty Niners have changed; but one thing remains constant. Our music continues to bring enjoyment to all who hear it. As the songwriter, Mac Davis put it, "Music is the universal language and love is the key." The Forty Niners speak that language.