On a pleasant Sunday evening in June 1971, a chorus of more than 600 voices took to the stage of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center to present what was originally planned as a one-time ecumenical choral celebration.

Under the direction of J. Robert Sheehan of The College of Saint Rose in Albany and accompanied by Magdalene York, organist at the Zion Lutheran Church in Schenec-tady, the Festival of Praise Choir was born.

Because of the tremendous response of the public to this initial effort, the choir held annual concerts at SPAC until 1982. Faced with dwindling resources, the choir was disbanded, but the spirit it engendered was still alive.

A number of former choir members decided to plan a re-union concert and approached me to conduct it. At that time, I was serving as organist and choir director at a local parish.

Wanting to forge a link with the past, but conscious of a new effort, the choir adopted the name "Festival Celebration Choir." More than 200 voices joined in the reunion concert in 1986 in Albany.

For the next few years, the choir planned annual concerts. Then, beginning in 1990, it scheduled two regular concerts each year, one at Christmastime and one in the spring. The original large number of chorus members dwindled over time, but a core of some 70-80 voices remained to carry on the tradition of ecumenical choir singing.

Driven by the desire to sing in praise of the Lord, the choir, representing 40-plus churches, has earned the reputation of being the Capital District's ecumenical choir. It has provided the music for several ecumenical events in the area, including the anniversary celebration of 25 years of ecumenism in the community, the 40th anniversary of the Decree on Ecumenism by the Second Vatican Council, biennial ecumenical Pentecost celebrations, and the visit a few years ago of the former cardinal prefect of the Vatican's Congregation on Ecumenism and Interreligious Affairs.

It has been my privilege to serve as the music director for this dedicated group of singers for the past 20 years. It is now time to hand over the baton to new leadership, and I am most pleased to have Wm. Glenn Osborne, organist and choir director of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany, succeed me.

It is my fervent prayer and hope that the choir will continue to grace our area with fine performances.

(The author is parish life director at Our Lady of Grace parish in Ballston Lake.)

(The choir's spring concert will be held June 11, 7:30 p.m., at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany. Tickets are $17 at the door, $10 for students/seniors.)

(6/1/06)