Performance brings singers’ executive director back to Columbus

David Wilkes has taken a round-about route back to Columbus. The 1976 Kendrick High School graduate will be performing Saturday in Legacy Hall as part of the Michael O’Neal Singers. Wilkes played clarinet and went on to Auburn University to earn a degree in music. He went to Kent State University for his master’s degree in clarinet performance.

After working in Nashville as a musician and teacher, he decided to go into administrative work and chose the University of Cincinnati for more graduate work.

Wilkes got an internship with the Atlanta Opera and never went back to school.

“After a rough patch with the Atlanta Opera, I landed here with the Michael O’Neal Singers as the executive director,” Wilkes said.

MOS, as the singers are referred to, is based in Roswell, Ga., just north of Atlanta. The chorus has been performing for 19 years.

“Most of our concerts are at the Roswell United Methodist Church, which seats 2,000 people,” he said. “We have 130 volunteer, auditioned singers.”

The touring group, of which he is a member, will be here Saturday night and numbers 44.

Once a singer auditions and is chosen for the choir, Wilkes said the singer will sing for artistic director O’Neal every four to five years.

Saturday’s program includes “Holocaust Cantata: Songs from the Camps” by Donald McCullough featuring soprano Debbie Rostad, bass-baritone John LaForge, cellist Daniel Laufer and pianist Tom Alderman; five American spirituals; Dvorak’s “Silent Woods.”

McCullough is with the Master Chorale of Washington, D.C., who found writing, music, poetry and stories by Polish prisoners of war during World War II. He had the poetry and stories translated into English, and set them to music, cantata style, Wilkes said.

“Holocaust Cantata” features singing and narration. The cellist is Daniel Laufer, who is the associate principal cellist with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. He later performs Dvorak’s “Silent Woods” with Alderman.

Wilkes calls the Columbus concert a preview tour, because it’s followed on Sunday with a concert in Atlanta’s Ahavath Achim Synagogue.

“We will have probably 35 singers going to Italy for the Amalfi Coast Music Festival in July,” Wilkes said. “We will be the chorus in residence for a week the third week of July. We’ll do three performances there and two of the programs are built around ‘Holocaust Cantata.’ ”

Wilkes said he’s been trying to get the MOS to Columbus since he took over as executive director 3 1 /2 years ago.

“I came and heard the Cleveland Orchestra and was blown away,” he said. “I played in the Columbus Symphony Orchestra for two years and we played in the Three Arts Theater and Columbus College. This (the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts) is a huge step forward for Columbus. I was so impressed and so happy.”

Wilkes still has family in the area. His mother Janelle, a retired schoolteacher, lives in Lake Martin, Ala. Lynn Wilkes, his sister, just retired from Richards Middle School. Brother Buddy Wilkes is a banker in Andalusia, Ala., while Russell Wilkes, who retired from the Air Force last year, lives in Warner Robins.