February 22, 2022
The 2022 J. Elwood Roberts/Mars Hill University Choral Festival returned to the campus of Mars Hill University on Saturday, February 19, 2022. The festival choir was conducted by renowned conductor and composer, Rollo A. Dilworth. Dilworth serves as the vice dean and professor of choral music education at Temple University.
The choral festival began in 1949 and had been held every year since, until COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the 2021 festival. Organizers made changes to the festival format, including switching from a two-day to a one-day format, limiting attendance at the closing concert to participants and their families, and requiring masks be worn by all participants and guests.
The 2022 choral festival featured 194 high school singers from 68 high schools across North Carolina. In addition to their performance under Dilworth’s direction, the festival also included performances by Elijah Smith, a senior music major from Lincolnton, North Carolina; music faculty members Cathy Adkins and Luke Shaver; the Mars Hill University Choir; and the African Collaborative Ensemble of the university’s percussion ensemble.
Accompanist for the festival was Cathy Adkins, university organist, professor of music, and executive director of general studies at Mars Hill University. Festival coordinators were Jeannie Graeme, choral director at North Buncombe High School, and Rodney Caldwell, director of choral studies and associate professor of music at Mars Hill University.
The J. Elwood Roberts – Mars Hill University Choral Festival was established in 1949 by the late J. Elwood Roberts, a faculty member in the Mars Hill music department and choir director of Mars Hill Baptist Church. Roberts wanted to improve choral music in the high schools of western North Carolina. While in the beginning the clinic comprised about 15 schools in the closely-surrounding area, this annual event has grown into one of the premiere choral festivals in North Carolina and is the longest-known continuously-running festival of its type in the southeast. Each year over 800 students from approximately 100 high schools audition for the Festival Choir. Guest conductors have included some of the most prominent choral musicians in the United States.