Choral Festival at Mars Hill University returns for 70th year

Press release from Mars Hill University:

In early February, students from more than 100 North Carolina high schools will converge on Mars Hill University for what has grown into one of the premiere choral festivals in North Carolina and possibly the longest continuously-running festival of its type in the Southeast. The 70th Annual J. Elwood Roberts – Mars Hill University Choral Festival will take place on the campus February 2 and 3, 2018. Dr. Brad Holmes of Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois, will be the guest director. Approximately 350 students selected from over 850 individual auditions will participate in the Festival Choir, which will present a free concert to conclude the festival.

Accompanist for the festival will be Cathy Adkins, associate professor of music and dean of general studies at Mars Hill University. Festival coordinators are Jeannie Graeme, choral director at North Buncombe High School, and Dr. Rod Caldwell, director of choral studies and coordinator of vocal studies at Mars Hill University.

The closing concert will be on Saturday, February 3, 2018 beginning at 4:00 p.m. in Moore Auditorium. The concert will include performances by the festival choir, choirs and soloists from Mars Hill, as well as a number which features all of the combined singers with festival brass, percussion, and organ. There is no admission charge for the concert.

Holmes is the director of choral programs at Millikin University. Prior to his appointment there, he was associate director of choirs at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. Choirs under his direction have sung in every state but Alaska and in thirty-five countries. Holmes was a Visiting Fellow at Cambridge University for two academic terms, working primarily with the choir of Clare College. He returns to England frequently for conducting engagements and choral workshops. Other international guest-conducting opportunities have taken him to continental Europe, China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. Domestically, Holmes has conducted over 250 choir festivals including 24 all-state choirs, regional ACDA (American Choral Directors Association) honor choirs, district festivals, and church music clinics throughout the United States. Holmes’s compositions are published by First Step Publishing, Santa Barbara Music Press, and Morning Star Publishers. Additional arrangements may be found at

Under Holmes’s direction, the Millikin University Choir has gained national recognition due, in part, to six invitations to perform at national and regional conferences of the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA). The choir’s annual U.S. tours have been punctuated by international tours to China and Taiwan, Ireland, Scotland, England, Russia, Norway, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and most recently to the Baltic countries of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia.

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 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.

Prior to his death in 1966, Roberts served the music department of Mars Hill College in several capacities. Most notably, he was as an instructor in music theory. He also directed the choir at Mars Hill Baptist Church.

About Mars Hill University:
Mars Hill University is a premier private, liberal arts institution offering over 30 baccalaureate degrees, as well as master’s degrees in criminal justice, elementary education, and management. Founded in 1856 by Baptist families of the region, the campus is located just 20 minutes north of Asheville in the mountains of western North Carolina. The university’s Asheville Center for Adult and Graduate Studies is located on Airport Road in Arden.

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