When the Jackson Choral Society began seeking an interim director last year, it couldn't have found a more experienced leader than Michael Beattie. For 10 years, he served as the president and executive director of the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra, and thanks to suggestions from a few friends and a fortunate opening, Beattie signed on at the Jackson Choral Society in November.
Since then, he's been helping the society prepare for its spring concert on April 23, which meant determining which pieces would best complement the choir's ability and the Jackson choral music community at large. The keyword there is "large."
"There's a huge participation in choral music in this metro area, principally through churches," Beattie, who has been the organist and choir director of Chapel of the Cross, near Madison, for five years, said. "Many, many churches have choirs, and some of them have very large choirs, very intricate choir programs, and do a wide variety of music ... extremely well."
Beattie, 63, also pointed to the number of organizations that support the choral arts in the city, such as the Mississippi Boys' Choir and the Mississippi Chorus.
While his work at the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra is mostly administrative, his role in the Jackson Choral Society will be entirely artistic. Beattie said his involvement here is more in line with his education.
Beattie received two degrees in organ performance, minoring in choral music: a bachelor of music from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln in 1973 and a master of music degree from the College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati in 1975.
Prior to accepting a position with the orchestra and moving to Jackson, Beattie's career focus was church music. For about 25 years, he worked as an organist and choir director for churches in Youngstown, Ohio, Omaha, Neb. and Louisville, Ky.
Beattie is particularly excited about the Jackson Choral Society's upcoming program because most of the music is from American composers.
"There are some things that anyone who has sung in a choir will absolutely recognize and some things that might be a little new," he said. "I like that mix—everything from spirituals to Leonard Bernstein."
Beattie said that Bernstein's "Chichester Psalms," which the composer wrote for Chichester Cathedral in 1965, acts as the centerpiece for the spring concert.
"It's a three-movement work for choir, a boy soprano, organ, harp and percussion," he said. "It's just a great piece, very rhythmic, very riveting and very beautiful."
For Beattie, choral music is a soulful experience that goes deeper than many other art forms. Singing requires performers to use an instrument that is part of their own body, and connections don't get any stronger than that.
"I think, for that reason, I just find it very fulfilling and moving to participate in something that can reach not only the participant, but also the listener, in such a significant way," Beattie said.