Still going strong, Piper wraps up 52nd year with Motet Choir

Lucille Piper sings with the Motet Choir to practice before the Morning Worship in the Back of the Amphitheater. (Photo by Ruby Wallau)

Lucille Piper sings with the Motet Choir to practice before the Morning Worship in the Back of the Amphitheater.

If someone wanted a firsthand account of how the Motet Choir became what it is today, they couldn’t do much better than Lucille Piper.

Piper, who has been a homeowner at Chautauqua since 1962, is wrapping up her 52nd year as a full-season member of the Motet Choir.

“It’s the joy of our lives to come back here and sing,” she said.

Piper, originally of Cleveland, was not formally trained in music until she was in her 40s, when she enrolled in an applied music program at a community college in Parma, Ohio.

After Piper’s family took up full-season residency at the Institution in 1963, Piper joined the Hurlbut Church choir as a soloist. She eventually joined the Chautauqua Choir.

Piper’s involvement with these groups led to her acquaintance with former Chautauqua organist and Motet Choir Director Robert Woodside, who admitted Piper to the group without an audition. Even so, Piper said the 1963 group was so small that she was barely aware of their existence.

“There weren’t many people who wanted to get up at 6 a.m. to sing in the choir,” Piper said. Members included a groundskeeper whose job required him to be up early enough for rehearsals and a handful of other Chautauqua residents, she said.

“All of these people were full-time residents,” Piper said. “It wasn’t a requirement, but it was an asset, because you knew who you could count on.”

The group had so few members it could easily fit around a piano situated in a practice room at the back of the Amphitheater, Piper said.

“We became a little family,” she said.

These small rehearsals brought about the first Motet Choir potluck breakfasts, which are still held for the members every Friday. In the beginning, each member would donate a quarter toward the purchase of donuts and coffee cake. Eventually, these informal snacks expanded into full meals.

“Al [Beale, another Motet Choir member] would say, ‘Warn your neighbors I’ll be in your backyard to make a charcoal fire,’ ” Piper said. The group would scramble eggs and fry sausage in iron skillets over these fires.

After Woodside’s departure, the choir came under the direction of several short-term leaders, gradually increasing in size. The current group has 54 members and is under the direction of Jared Jacobsen.

“I stress Jared’s direction and inspiration as a marvellous technique in choral music that I’ve not seen anywhere else,” Piper said. “It’s a lesson every day.”

In addition to her commitment to the Chautauquan musical scene, Piper has served as Recording Secretary at the Chautauqua Women’s Club and founded the craft sale in 1982, which is still in operation today. One quarter of all proceeds from the craft sale goes to the Chautauqua Women’s Club Scholarship Fund.

“It’s been a wonderful journey,” Piper said of Chautauqua. “This place is life-changing.”