75th J. Elwood Roberts

Mars Hill University Choral Festival 

February 9-10, 2024

2024 Guest Clinician

Dr. Eric Nelson | Emory University

Eric Nelson is Professor of Music and Director of Choral Studies at Emory University. He is also the conductor and Artistic Director of Atlanta Master Chorale. Dr. Nelson’s choirs have performed throughout the world, including London, Rome, Krakow, Berlin, Leipzig, Prague, Moscow, Seoul, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and the Sydney Opera House.

He has conducted choirs at eight American Choral Directors Association conventions, including Atlanta Master Chorale’s performance at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis for the National Convention in 2017, and the Emory Concert Choir’s performance at Chicago’s Orchestra Hall for the National Convention in 2011.

In the summer of 2016, to the astonishment of all who know him, he appeared with Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones at Bobby Dodd Stadium, leading the Concert Choir in the classic “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

Most recently, in May of 2017, he embarked with the Emory Concert Choir on a performance tour to Spain and Portugal where they sang in Granada, Seville, Lisbon and at the Alhambra.

Dr. Nelson’s ensembles are characterized by the performance of repertoire in a wide variety of styles and for their ability to fuse technical precision with warmth of musical expression. He appears regularly as clinician, lecturer, and guest conductor for honor choirs, conventions, symposiums, workshops, and all-state choral festivals. Nelson is also past president of the GA ACDA.

Dr. Nelson’s choral compositions and arrangements are sung regularly by ensembles throughout the United States. He is the editor of the “Atlanta Master Chorale Choral Series,” a division of Morningstar Music Publishers and ECSchirmer. His compositions are also published by Colla Voce and Augsburg Fortress. He holds degrees in voice and conducting from Houghton College, Westminster Choir College, and Indiana University.

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History of the festival

J. Elwood Roberts – Mars Hill University


The J. Elwood Roberts – Mars Hill University Choral Festival was established in 1949 by the late J. Elwood Roberts as an effort to improve choral music in the high schools of western North Carolina. While in the beginning the “clinic” was comprised of about fifteen schools in the closely-surrounding area, this annual event has grown into one of the premiere choral festivals in North Carolina and, prior to COVID, was the longest, continuously-running festival of its type in the southeast. Each year over 800 students from approximately 100 high schools audition for the Festival Choir.

In the early years students were selected by their directors to sing in the choral clinic. Quite often, a double quartet from each high school would participate. As the event continued to grow, reaching a size of 400 non-auditioned singers, it was decided that a better format would be to reduce the size to approximately 325 voices and have the singers audition at selected high school sites. This practice was put into effect for the clinic of 1970. After selection, the singers prepare the music and attend one of seven zone rehearsals held in January. With the help of high school zone coordinators this practice has proven very effective.

Guest conductors have included some of the most prominent choral musicians in the United States.

J. Elwood Roberts came to Mars Hill College in 1944. He served the music department in several capacities, most notably as an instructor in music theory. He also directed the choir at Mars Hill Baptist Church. Mr. Roberts died in 1966 at the age of 52.


Click Here for :

Account of Choral Festival History by Jim Williams 

List of Festival Conductors