Grace Notes: Bahamas National Youth Choir, Miss Elizabeth Craft & ‘Joy to the World’


Newport, R.I.: Island Cemetery, Lyre Headstone 9/3/12

           Monday night, the Bahamas National Youth Choir offered its annual Christmas concert in Nassau’s Trinity Methodist Church.

           It was an assured performance by a well-trained ensemble, lifting ‘the bleak midwinter’ of Newtown.

           From the familiar ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ to the unfamiliar ‘Sweet was the Song the Virgin Sang’, the Choir’s performances were distinctive, rich, nuanced and collaborative.  The rapport between its director and the choristers revealed itself in unforced smiles and joy in song.

           An appreciative audience packed in the pews and standing in the narrow side aisles included government ministers and the Governor General, but fortunately no fire marshal.

          When it came time for the collection, the audience joined the Choir in Isaac Watts’ incomparable ‘Joy to the World’.  The first few notes revealed the audience held no mean choir itself. 

           At concert’s end, the Founder/Director, Cleophas R.E. Adderley, specially acknowledged a woman from Cincinnati who had made the Choir’s participation in the World Choir Games there this past summer a pleasure as well as a triumph.  It was a very moving moment.


           Like all the cities along the Ohio River, Cincinnati has a rich tradition of choral music dating at least to the first German migration in the 1840s.  Across the state but still along the Ohio, we thought of the University of Cincinnati as the place to go for music.

           Why would we know – much less care – about this, sitting six tough hours of driving (pre-interstates) away?  The answer was Elizabeth Craft, as I’ve written.

           Miss Craft – no one under the age of 20 or those now in their 60s who learned music from her ever called her anything else – taught music to grade schoolers and led the St. Clairsville High School choir.  On weekends and evenings, she played the organ and directed the choir at the First Presbyterian Church.

           A stern but elegant woman, she presented herself very differently from her peers in their dowdy prints and costume jewelry.  She wore fashionable 50s glasses, her fair hair was meticulously arranged.  Somehow, the richness of her clothes offered a warmth that her unsmiling, often critical demeanor hid.

           But something about her made us work like hell for her, something well beyond fear.  In a time when getting swatted by a teacher was no big deal, she never raised her voice except to illustrate tone.

           Somehow we knew that working for Miss Craft had rewards, even if a smile wasn’t one of them.  It sure didn’t come from anything she said which was strictly, solely business.  It was to Cincinnati that she guided her best choristers who were often Black.


          The contrast between Cleophas Adderley and Elizabeth Craft as directors could not be more diametrical.  So, too, with my high school glee club director, Lee Gilliam, and choirmaster, Fr. William Penfield.  The inspiration I took from their smiles of pleasure drove still more attention, harder work.

           What reward did Miss Craft offer us Pavlov’s pups?  So far as I know, all I got from K-8 was reinforcement for my love of song and a sense of the differences work and technique could make in sound.

          It’s a mystery to me.  But what a gift she gave me!  And so many others.  ‘Joy to the World!’