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The Ethos Consortium

by Mark Peres

February 6,2007

On a near freezing night in late January, I huddled with hundreds of others in the warmth of the Dale F. Halton Theater to listen to the choral harmonies of The Ethos Consortium. I had been invited by my friend, Holly, who was among the choir singing alto in the back row. I knew little about the Consortium before arriving, but experienced enough to know that it is one of the great examples of all that is good about this city.

The benefit performance was entitled, “Celebrate me Home.” Led by Paul Oakley, its founder and artistic director, The Ethos Chamber Singers sang a series of classical and modern songs around themes of travel, home, hope and inspiration. The concert benefited the Urban Ministry Center, Soup Kitchen and Room In The Inn – interfaith organizations that serve the poor and homeless.

There was a palpable appreciation in the room for the performance and the cause. Indeed, there was joy. Mr. Oakley bounded upon stage, comfortable, talented and accessible, conducting movements by Copland and Bernstein, the North Carolina premiere of Greg Bartholomew’s “In the 21st Century (A Girl Born in Afghanistan)”, an avant-garde unaccompanied choral piece interpreting Kofi Annan’s 2002 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, and infectious solo performances by mezzo-soprano Theresa Thomason.

Previous concerts by The Ethos Consortium have been entitled “Let it ‘B’,” which included Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no.2 and a reading of “Babar the Elephant” by Mike Collins, benefiting the Levine Children’s Hospital; and “Bach goes Blue,” which included a solo performance by Anthony Molinaro, hailed as “one of the hottest young pianists in the world,” benefiting United Family Services.

How did this all get started? The story goes that Hugh McColl, Jr., was in the audience in New York during a musical performance conducted by Mr. Oakley. As Mr. Oakley is want to do, he conversed with the audience and mentioned that he was from Charlotte. That caught Mr. McColl’s attention, and, as he is want to do, he went up to Mr. Oakley after the concert, introduced himself and asked: “What are you doing for Charlotte to make it a better place?”

Apocryphal or not (but so much more interesting if true), the Damascus moment led to Mr. Oakley reflecting on his gifts and the needs of the city. In response, he founded The Ethos Consortium. Incorporated in October 2004 with a vision to bring classical music to the whole community through mission and educational projects, The Ethos Consortium exists to allow Charlotte's finest players and singers a forum in which to make music in a world-class ensemble while assisting the greater community.

And here is how Charlotte is a better place as a result:

• Non-profit mission organizations that engage in “hands-on” work helping the least among us receive financial support underwritten through concert tickets and private donations. Every penny from every ticket is a tax-deductible donation to the chosen organization.

• The audience gets to hear world-class (yes, Virginia), professional classical music. The music is of the highest quality in range and innovation, rivaling chamber choral music in peer cities throughout the nation.

• Donors receive a double-benefit of participating in the growth of first-rate artistry while contributing to the neediest organizations in Charlotte.

• The players perform music with highly talented colleagues, learn challenging repertoire, have solo opportunities, and earn competitive income, helping the city attract and retain exceptional artists.

In addition, the Ethos Consortium changes venues – from Myers Park Baptist Church to Temple Israel to CPCC and beyond – to bring music and mission to the whole of the city.  That’s two more than a trifecta – and a great example of heart space and leverage. It is also quintessentially Charlotte – inspired, mission-centered, solution-focused and ambitious. This city aspires to do well by doing good.

Charlotte has a long tradition of people like Mr. Oakley who have reflected on their gifts and the needs of the city. Mr. Oakley left his position as the Minister of Music and Organist for the Myers Park Baptist Church to assume a similar position at The Reformed Church of Bronxville in New York. Current resident or not, he is among thousands on the ground here helping make Charlotte a better place.

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