Q&A: Sandy Wells, Conductor Of Sing-Along 'Messiah' Concerts by Clinch Valley Community Chorus & Orchestra

Sandy Wells, director of the Tennessee Valley Ensemble, will conduct three free, sing-along Messiah concerts by the Clinch Valley Community Chorus and Orchestra beginning Dec. 1 at the Norris Methodist Church (62 Ridgeway Rd.).

In 25 words or less, what is the Tennessee Valley Ensemble?

The TVE is a little family of musicians who love to share the joy of great band music with those who would otherwise not get to hear it.

How did you get involved?

I was invited into the band around 10 years ago by a trombonist who no longer plays with us. About seven years ago, they asked me to lay down my horn and start conducting. I love it! The TVE has about 35 people and anyone can join us.

Do any of your 10 children participate in the ensemble?

My daughter Briana plays piano for us, and sometimes is persuaded to give us a beautiful alto solo. My daughter Laura White sings with us and my mother Sue Urbach also sings with us.

How long have you been tackling the Messiah?

This is our 12th year to do the Messiah Sing-Along. When we started, there were literally just a dozen of us in the Norris area who wanted to participate in a Messiah sing-along, but there were none in the area, so we just decided to start our own. From a pre-recorded accompaniment CD and four solos and four choruses, we have grown through the years to include a full orchestra and 40-plus voices in the choir. It just gets better every year and we love seeing one another every October through December.

And you do a shorter version than most?

I tried to tell the Savior's story in some kind of order that made sense as we added more numbers, and I decided to limit the performance to one hour and 15 minutes—we don't really want to do an intermission—so that limits the number of pieces we can do.

If the Messiah isn't someone's idea of holiday music, do you offer anything else?

The TVE will be playing a couple of band concerts that are strictly Christmas music on Dec.13 at noon at UT medical center in the cafeteria. We do this every year to help bring cheer to the doctors, nurses and patients who must be there during the holidays. Our other upcoming public concert is at Peace Lutheran church on Dec.16 at 6:30 Pm. Both of these events are open to the public and again free of charge.

You really want the audience to sing along, like those versions of The Sound of Music?

Absolutely! We want them to bring a Messiah score if they have one—we have a few at the door to borrow—and sing along on the choruses. It is fantastic hearing and feeling the wall of sound in front and behind me as we did last year at the Unitarian Church in Oak Ridge. And all performances are free and open to the public.

Have you ever wished someone in the audience wouldn't sing?

Oh, no! I have always told the people in the choirs I've directed that the Lord said, "Make a joyful noise," not, "Make a joyful noise if you're a trained singer!"

What's your musical background?

I have always loved and been involved with music for as long as I can remember—singing with my mom washing dishes, singing with my third-grade girlfriend in our garages as we held up our hands for pretend microphones, and later playing in school bands and singing in the choirs. I remember having the opportunity to direct our junior high band when the band director offered anyone who wanted a try, and then being an aide for choir and getting to direct a high school choir. It was like magic! You lifted your hand and when you brought it down, there was wonderful sound! What a rush. I have also directed home school bands and choirs for the past 17 years while I schooled my own children in cooperative group classes. I teach private piano lessons—have for about 30 years—and have directed numerous church choirs and children's choirs for the past 30 years. Our youngest of 10 children (eight of whom I had the privilege of being full-time mom to) just graduated this year and about two years ago, I started getting nudged by the Lord to go back and finish what I started over 30 years ago, a degree in music. Sooooo... I thought I'd be obedient and am hoping my example will encourage my children and grandchildren that it's never too late to learn!

Concerts are Dec. 1 at 7 p.m. at the Norris Methodist Church on 62 Ridgeway Rd.; Dec. 2 at 4 p.m. at the Oak Ridge Unitarian Universalist church at 1500 Oak Ridge Turnpike; and Dec. 9 at 5 p.m. at the First Christian Church on 5th and Gay Streets in downtown Knoxville. For more information about the group: tnvalleyensemble.org.

Join the Tennessee Valley Ensemble for other free concerts!

- Tues., Dec. 4, 6:30 p.m. @ Elmcroft Assisted Living, Knoxville

- Tues., Dec. 11, 6:45 p.m. @ Echo Ridge Retirement Residence, Knoxville

- Thurs., Dec. 13, Noon @ UT Medical Center's cafeteria, Knoxville

- Sun., Dec. 16, 6:30 p.m. @ Peace Lutheran Church, Knoxville

Corrected: The concerts are by the Clinch Valley Community Chorus, not the Tennessee Valley Ensemble.