Chase: Conducting choral excellence

Published 5:44 pm Friday, January 6, 2023

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of six articles, each highlighting one of the 2022 inductees to the Franklin Community Wall of Excellence. Stories on Robert E. Carter and Herman A. Charity are also online.

The Franklin Community Wall of Excellence gained six new names via its 2022 class.

Those being inducted onto the wall due to their outstanding service included Robert E. Carter, Herman A. Charity and the late George Horace “Top” Hedgepeth. Constance “Connie” Lankford Chase was inducted due to her impact in the world of cultural and performing arts, Ronald Reese was inducted as a result of his athletic accomplishment and J. Mitchell Sandlin joined the wall due to his outstanding career.

The sixth annual Franklin Community Wall of Excellence Induction Dinner and Ceremony took place Saturday, Oct. 22, at the Cypress Cove Country Club.

As noted in the event’s program, through the vision of some local Franklin City Public Schools alumni and school personnel, the Franklin Community Wall of Excellence Inc. was established in 2016 as a program to honor former Franklin and Hayden high school students, administrators, teachers and staff who have excelled or distinguished themselves through personal and/or professional success, as well as to recognize those community members who have made significant contributions to the public schools in Franklin.

“The Wall” is located at Franklin High School, adjacent to the gymnasium, a recent Wall of Excellence news release stated. Names and photos of each inductee are displayed for generations of Franklin High School students and community members to see as they walk by on their way to class or an event at FHS.

CONSTANCE “CONNIE” LANKFORD CHASE

Chase grew up in Franklin and graduated from FHS in 1972.

Introducing her at the induction dinner and ceremony was Nancy Parrish, who graduated three years ahead of Chase.

“I kept up with her and her accomplishments, and I have to say that I was very impressed,” Parrish said.

She nominated Chase to be inducted.

“Connie is someone who has enjoyed music all of her life from a very young age,” Parrish said. “Before she even turned 5, against the teacher’s advice, her mother enrolled her in piano lessons. Well, as it turned out, Connie was a pretty good pianist.”

Chase later gave special recognition to her piano teacher who taught her at that young age.

“And eventually she became a flautist,” Parrish said of Chase. “Connie continued to hone her musical talent at Franklin High School under the direction of Ed Barton.”

Barton is a 2019 inductee onto the Wall of Excellence.

As noted in the event program, Chase attended her mother’s alma mater, the University of North Carolina Greensboro, and majored in music. 

While teaching music at an elementary school in Fayetteville, North Carolina, she met her future husband, who was serving as a field artillery officer in the 82nd Airborne Division, the program stated. They later married, and while Chase’s husband was stationed in Germany, a friend casually asked her why she was not singing professionally.

“Little did either of them know at that time the dramatic impact that that question would have on Connie’s life,” Parrish said.

Chase gave the question some thought, and upon her and her husband’s return to the U.S., she enrolled at Hunter College, a part of the City University of New York, the program noted. She earned a master’s degree in voice performance while her husband taught at the United States Military Academy, also known as West Point.

The program highlighted how Chase started performing with the West Point Band. After her husband retired and they moved to Connecticut, the role of West Point Glee Club director opened up, and she took the job.

She is in her 23rd year in that position, serving as a high-profile ambassador for West Point, the program stated. Among the major events of her career there, one involved the Glee Club performing with the Boston Pops Orchestra only 10 days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

A year later the Glee Club performed with the U.S. Marine Corps Band at the site of the World Trade Center in New York City, and the cadets of the Glee Club were able to interact with family members of those who perished in the attack, the program noted.

“Connie says that was perhaps the most emotional moment of her career, one that she will never forget,” Parrish said.

The program also highlighted how the West Point Glee Club, under Chase’s direction, has performed at many prestigious events, including those at venues like The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Carnegie Hall and Skywalker Ranch.

Parrish also noted the club performed in a special halftime event at Super Bowl XXXIX.

Later, Parrish shared that Chase co-authored a book with world-renowned soprano Shirlee Emmons titled “Prescriptions for Choral Excellence.”

“It was the first book written of its sort ever, and it’s been used in both undergraduate and graduate programs in the United States, Canada, England and Brazil,” Parrish said.

She stated that Chase has served as the artistic director of the Connecticut Chamber Choir and as an adjunct professor at Western Connecticut State University’s School of Visual and Performing Arts.

“Her private students have excelled at both the state and national levels,” Parrish said, adding that Chase herself has performed under a variety of high-profile conductors.

Parrish said Chase has held several board positions in both the National Association of Teachers of Singing and the American Choral Directors Association.

“Nancy, I want to thank you for that very generous introduction and for placing my name in nomination,” Chase said at the induction ceremony. “And to the (Franklin Community Wall of Excellence) Committee, there are no words. It’s just such a tremendous honor. I thank you so much. And I have to say, it is good to be home.”

She recognized and thanked family and friends who traveled to share in the special occasion of the induction ceremony.

Chase took a special moment to highlight her parents.

“They brought the four of us up in Franklin, first on Walnut Street and then at 616 W. 2nd Ave., until they moved to Raleigh in 1974,” she said. “They were members of the Greatest Generation.”

She praised the upbringing she experienced in Franklin and noted that the success that she and everyone else present at the ceremony enjoy is “because of the people who raised us, taught us, influenced us by the way they lived their lives during our growing up in the ’60s and the ’70s.”

Chase put a spotlight on several people who were important influences on her and the community during those decades.

“The countless others, of course, were our parents, teachers, Sunday School teachers, youth group leaders, Girl Scout, Boy Scout leaders, coaches, neighbors, the parents of our friends — some are still with us and in this room tonight,” she said. “They taught us by example to work hard, which also meant do your best and be honest, to go to church and to give back. Those lessons served us well. They served me particularly well in the years of our nomadic military life, moving every one to three years around the U.S. and abroad before finally settling in our Connecticut home.

“I’m so grateful for the example they set, and if any of us in this room have accomplished anything worthy of an honor, it’s because of them,” she added.

She said that thinking through the list of this year’s Wall of Excellence honorees and those of the preceding years left her deeply touched to be included among them and feeling very undeserving.

“Allow me to express my heartfelt congratulations to the inductees tonight and my deepest gratitude to the committee, for this honor, and to all of you, for being here tonight,” she said. “I will remember this night always. Thank you.”