This preview has been provided by the Hickory Choral Society.

Hickory Choral Society welcomes Dr. Eric Nelson to the podium as Guest Conductor for the upcoming Spring Concert. First Baptist Church, 339 2nd Avenue NW in Hickory, hosts the concert at 3 pm on Sunday, March 22.

Dr. Nelson is a nationally acclaimed conductor, composer, arranger and educator. To many who have had the opportunity to work, study and perform under his leadership, he is known as an exceptional teacher of choral art. Dr. Nelson is Director of Choral Studies at Emory University, where he teaches graduate Choral Conducting and Choral Literature. He conducts Emory’s 40-voice Concert Choir and its 180-voice University Chorus. In 2004, he was the recipient of a “Crystal Apple” award for excellence in teaching at Emory University. He is also the Artistic Director of the Atlanta Master Chorale, a 45-voice adult chamber choir specializing in a cappella repertoire and is the Minister of Music at the historic Second Ponce de Leon Baptist Church in Atlanta.

The concert will present an all-Mozart program, a rare opportunity to hear two of the composer’s best-known and most-admired works. Ave Verum Corpus, a simple yet warm selection, quietly opens the concert. The second and final work of the program is the Requiem, K. 626, commissioned in July 1791 by Viennese nobleman Count Franz Welsegg. Mozart, who never knew who commissioned the work, died on December 5th of that same year. Even today, musicologists debate who played a role in completion of the final work. It remains one of the composer’s most performed choral masterpieces.

Dr. Nelson’s presence here continues the tradition set by Hickory Choral Society to offer professionally respected choral conductors for the enjoyment of both our singers and our faithful patrons.

Since the spring of 1978, the Hickory Choral Society has continued to delight audiences with excellent choral music literature. Each year, the Hickory Choral Society provides local music lovers with a series of exciting and well-attended concerts. The all-volunteer group, made up of 110 singers from Catawba and surrounding counties, is well known throughout North Carolina for its annual Christmas Concerts at Corinth Reformed Church in Hickory. They have also been noted for numerous concerts, including performances with the North Carolina Symphony; a concert at Lincoln Center in New York; and a trip that included concerts in Portsmouth and London, England and Edinburgh, Scotland. The 2003 Christmas Concert was broadcast live statewide over UNC-TV and has continued to be rebroadcast. In May 2010 the Hickory Choral Society was honored to be part of the Piccolo Spoleto Festival in Charleston, SC. In January 2013 they were pleased to be included in the Carnegie Hall, NYC performance of A Great and Glorious Victory, by British composer/conductor Jonathon Willcocks. They returned to Carnegie Hall in January 2014 for the world premiere of a work they had commissioned in honor of their 35th Anniversary, Requiem for the Living by Dan Forrest – a noted composer, pianist, and music editor.

The Spring Concert is free and open to the public. For membership and other information, call the Hickory Choral Society office at 828-322-2210. A special invitation is extended to the public to attend the Spring Concert – a tradition with audiences in the Catawba Valley. This concert offers something for everyone. The Hickory Choral Society is a funded affiliate of the United Arts Council of Catawba County.


ERIC NELSON is the Artistic Director of the Atlanta Master Chorale, the Director of Choral Studies at Emory University, and the Minister of Music at Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church.

With training in voice and choral conducting from Houghton College, Westminster Choir College, and Indiana University, Dr. Nelson inspires choral artistry in singers of all ages, building excellent choral technique along with a passion for the unity of music and meaning. An exceptional teacher, he draws from a breadth of experience as both professional organist and vocal performer, finding myriad ways to help singers not only learn, but also celebrate the gift of singing — as he says — “shoulder to shoulder, voice to voice, one voice lost in another, each agreeing on something beyond themselves.”

Highly regarded as a clinician, adjudicator, lecturer, and guest conductor, Dr. Nelson has conducted throughout the nation and the world, including performances at Carnegie Hall in New York, Orchestra Hall in Chicago, St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, and the Sydney Opera House in Australia. His choirs have performed for the American Choral Directors Association seven times.

In 2014, he served as the Artistic Director for the Music and Worship Service for the American Choral Directors Association Convention in Jacksonville, Florida. He has presented workshops for the ACDA, the Music Educator’s National Conference, the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians, the Presbyterian Association of Musicians, the American Guild of Organists, Chorister’s Guild, and for numerous churches, colleges and universities.

Dr. Nelson is the past recipient of a “Crystal Apple” award for excellence in teaching at Emory University, and the “American Prize” in choral conducting. In 2013, his Atlanta Master Chorale received the “Margaret Hillis Award for Choral Excellence” from Chorus America.

Eric is the editor of the “Atlanta Master Chorale Choral Series”, a division of Morningstar Music Publishers. His compositions are also published by Colla Voce and Augsburg Fortress.


Danny Gouge joined Hickory Choral Society in the fall of 2014. He has served as the Music Director at East Hickory Baptist Church and Mt. Hebron Lutheran Church. He studied Sacred Music for a short time at Gardner-Webb University. He also sang in the Show Choir and studied voice at Catawba Valley Community College. He was honored last spring to attend a Master Class with Franc D’ Ambrosio and sing a duet, “All I Ask of You”, from Phantom of the Opera with Mrs. Mara Walker during the encore of Franc’s “Phantom Unmasked” concert with the Western Piedmont Symphony. He has most recently had the honor of singing solo performances in HCS’s fall and Christmas 2014 concerts.

Danny’s career path has led him to public service. He has served as a firefighter for George Hildebran Fire/Rescue and has also served as a Paramedic for Burke County. He currently works full time as a Paramedic for Caldwell County Emergency Services. 

H. Shay Starnes is the Choral Director at Granite Falls Middle School and has been teaching there since 2000. Her students have participated in Caldwell All County Choruses, North Carolina Middle School Honors Choruses, North Carolina All State Choruses, Hickory Choral Society Children’s Choruses and have earned many Superior ratings at Western District #2 State Middle School Choral Music Performance Adjudication.

A native of Waynesville, North Carolina, Mrs. Starnes holds a Master of Music degree in Music Education from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and received her Bachelor of Science degree in Music Education from Western Carolina University where she studied with Dr. Mary Kay Bauer. She is a member of the North Carolina Music Educators’ Association, the American Choral Directors’ Association, and Sigma Alpha Iota International Music Fraternity for Women.

Shay is married to Jacob Starnes and they live in Hickory, NC. In addition to singing with the Hickory Choral Society, she also enjoys singing with the choir at Crosslink Church in Rutherford College, NC and staying close to her mountain roots by playing clawhammer banjo.

Paul van Breemen majored in music education with emphasis in voice, and minored in German at Western Oregon University. While at Western, he won his division in a National Association Teachers of Singing (NATS) competition in the Young Adult division.

Paul has directed church choirs while stationed in Germany and in Oregon. He was guest choral director at Oregon State University’s drama department for the musical “Starmites”. Paul has also performed on stage in The Merry Widow, Amal and the Night Visitors, Brigadoon, and several plays. Paul was a member of Salem Master Chorus in Salem, Oregon for several years and sang with the Mozart Society, in Winston-Salem, NC. Paul joined Hickory Choral Society in 2013.

Paul served in the Army and the Army Reserves where he was deployed five times in 10 years, always taking his guitar and leading the music in both Protestant and Catholic services to include an Easter Service in the desert of Iraq. He also is a songwriter, which started on his last deployment.

Paul has two sons, Michael and Christopher, daughter Kate, and grandson Olly. Paul’s partner in life is Julie Cline from Hickory.

Mara Noelle Walker is the choral director at Freedom High School in Morganton, NC. She is a 2013 graduate of Lenoir-Rhyne University, where she received her Bachelor’s degree in Music Education. Her choirs perform at various events throughout the area and received two Superior ratings at MPA last spring. In addition to teaching, Mara also performs at local churches, sporting events, competitions, and shows. She was selected last spring as a soloist to perform with the Western Piedmont Symphony in the “Sing For the Phantom” competition and masterclass.