How a Beaufort conductor helps the Sea Island Chamber Singers hit all the right notes
It’s nearing 6 p.m. on a Sunday evening and the sun is quickly moving below the treetops outside the windows of a church as Charlie Frost quietly picks up and puts on his glasses.
That must mean it’s showtime for the director of the Sea Island Chamber Singers.
As Frost moves across the floor of the sanctuary at St. John’s Lutheran Church, the assembled singers straighten in their chairs and the creaking of the risers softens.
When Frost reaches the piano, he looks down at his music and soon the glasses are off again. As he strikes the first chord to guide vocal warm-ups, the fun for him has finally begun.
“Good practice is key, but it’s also where I have the most fun,” said Frost. “The rehearsals are a great part of the journey.”
The look on the faces of the singers – those who passed the audition – seems to agree with that sentiment.
Some 12 of the 34 current members have been with Frost since his first concert as their director back in 2006.
The New Jersey native, graduate of Westminster Choir College and former church music minister was asked to assemble a choir to join the instrumentalists in a Beaufort Symphony Orchestra concert that year. It didn’t stop there. “People came up to me in the months after the concert and asked me when our group was going to sing again,” said Frost.
From there, the concerts became a once-a-year deal for the group and moved into twice-ayear events in recent years.
That’s what you call “back by popular demand.”
Not much has changed, either.
Frost still chooses the music and the theme of concert by whatever mood (or spirit) strikes him, though he admits to favoring last spring’s concert that featured Schubert’s Mass in G Major.
Some concerts feature familiar words set to different musical arrangements, songs sung in Latin, or the occasional complete (but pleasant) obscurity.
This time around the group is focusing on sacred music by Mendelssohn, Handel, Rutter and others. It’s more traditional fare that Frost calls both “listenable” and “singable.”
While this concert – coming at 7 p.m. Nov. 11 at St. John’s – may include popular canonical songs, other aspects of the Sea Island Chamber repertoire remain the same.
Hitting the right notes and managing harmonies, not to mention remembering different vocal dynamics and changing time signatures, ensure the challenge lies in both the singers’ talents and the listeners’ ears in detecting the subtleties.
Frost, as always, feeds off of the energy of his vocalists.
“The musicians have to trust themselves in the direction of the music,” said Frost. “We have faith that it will all come together.”
Any regular concertgoer already knows Frost also feeds off the enthusiasm of the audience. It’s a signature visual as well as audio performance.
Sometimes lost amid the swells of the loudest music is appreciation for the conductor, sweating and waving with every finished measure.
You can almost imagine him as the coach of the Dallas Cowboys, willing his offense down the field and over the goal line, ready for the appreciative applause of the crowd.
The entire experience, particularly for those involved in pulling it off, has been a welcome addition to Beaufort’s event calendar over the last decade.
“The singers have gotten better over time, or maybe I’ve gotten better directing them,” he said.
Either way, the glasses will go on, if only briefly, soon enough.
The singers will stand at attention and take that last quiet clearing of the throat.
It’s almost showtime.
Director Charlie Frost conducts during a rehearsal of the Sea Island Chamber Singers. The group’s next concert is Nov. 11 at St. John’s Lutheran Church.