By the early 1950s, a community chorus for Great Neck was already an old idea, but one that had never jelled. What finally made it happen was a combination of two forces: support by the Adult Education program of the Great Neck schools and the vision, enthusiasm, and drive of a young musician names Martin Josman, the founding director of what became the Great Neck Choral Society.
The group's first public performance was at the Great Neck railroad station, where a small band of singers serenaded commuters during the 1957 holiday season. The paperwork that would tell exactly what was sung then, or for the next few years, has been lost. However, fragmentary notes show that on June 12, 1959, the group performed one or more of Handel's Chandos Anthems, Mozart's Ave Verum Corpus, a group of songs by Brahms, and eleven assorted madrigals and other sold songs.
The Great Neck Choral Society was incorporated in 1960, and from that time on, printed programs that have survived, list the performances in detail. The performances, two or three a year, encompass virtually all of the major choral works of the last four centuries. But GNCS has performed many less well-known works as well: from the Baroque, Ranaissance, and Romantic eras, and from the American folk tradition. Three modern works have been composed specifically for GNCS.
During its 59 years, GNCS has had six music directors. Mr. Josman left in 1962 and recently passed as director of the National Chorale and Orchestra. Replacing him was George V. Rose, a tenor who taught in the Great Neck schools and had long directed the Kings Point Glee Club. He would direct GNCS for twenty-one years. When he left, in 1982, he was succeeded by Johannes Somary, a Swiss-born organist who was founder and music director of the Amor Artis Chamber Chorus and Orchestra. Mr. Somary, who achieved an international reputation, directed GNCS for eleven years. In 1993, he was succeeded by Bart Folse, conductor of the New Jersey Pro Art Chorale. His sojourn was a relatively brief five years. In 1998, Dr. Virginia Davidson - singer, conductor, teacher, and developer of musical organizations - took the reins and presided until 2010.
From the beginning, GNCS has always employed professional soloists. Some appeared with the chorus early in their professional careers, but many had established reputations, both in the US and abroad, as outstanding singers in recitals, oratorios, baroque music, operetta, and opera. Nine had already sung roles with the New York City Opera, and seven with the Metropolitan Opera.
Instrumental support, also professional, has varied with the type of music, the venue, and sometimes with the budget. In the early years, support usually consisted of organ, one or two pianos, or a small string, wind, or brass ensemble. In recent years, especially for large works, GNCS has more often emplyed a full chamger orchestra.
The Great Neck Choral Society has performed in many different venues, including the Maritime Chapel and Ackerman Auditorium of the US Merchant Marine Academy, the Great Neck Middle and Senior High Schools (North and South), the Saddle Rock and Baker Hill Elementary Schools, Junior High School 74 in Bayside, Hofstra University's Adams Playhouse, the Manhasset Congregational Church, the United Methodist Church of Floral Park, St. Paul's Chapel at Columbia University, Fordham University Church, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, North Shore Unitarian Church, St. Patrick's Cathedral, Temple Beth El of Great Neck, Temple Emanual of Great Neck, Carnegie Hall, and Colden Auditorium of Queens College.
At various times, the chorus has joined forces in performance with other groups, including the Nassau Symphony Orchestra, the Bronx Arts Ensemble Chorus and Orchestra, the Horace Mann Glee Club, the Great Neck Symphony, the Queens Philharmonic Symphony, the Waldorf Choral Society, the Fairfield County Chorale, the Davidson Singers, and the Long Island Symphonic Choral Society.
A not-for-profit corporation, the Great Neck Choral Society depends on financial support in the form of membership dues, ticket sales, the same of program advertisements, tax-deductible contributions, and occasional small grants.