The Cumberland Oratorio Singers hope to make beautiful music with their new conductor, Michael Martin.
Adding a new front man is a very big change for the COS, which has been led by the same conductor — founder Alan Porter — for its entire 17-year existence. Porter recently retired as conductor, though he plans to stay on the COS’s board of directors.
    Martin, a native of Maine, will start in the fall. He is the assistant professor of music and director of choral activities and music education at Methodist University; he brings a wealth of experience in various fields of the performing arts to the COS.
    “I’ve been a choral director of several community groups,” Martin said. “Different kinds. I conducted a rather large choral group of 120 and I built that up from 35 while in New England. I also directed a semiprofessional group set up by audition.
    “And, I conducted men’s barbershop chorus, sang for 18 years in professional barbershop quartets,” said Martin, “and had the chance to travel all over the U.S. and Europe singing with them.”
    Martin is excited about the opportunity to make the COS even bigger and better, though he came within a whisker of not getting the job.
    “They didn’t contact me,” said Martin. “I saw that they were having auditions for a director, so I poked around for a bit and I found that they had already done a search and they had settled on two people they were going to audition.
    “So I talked to Fouad Fakhouri (conductor for the Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra) and mentioned to him my background and he said I need to be part of that, that my experience was the direction they wanted to go.”
    And that experience certainly interested the FSO’s board of directors.
    “He (Martin) just stood out with his experience and knowledge,” said Porter.
    Porter said he is stepping down for various reasons, even though his love and passion for the COS has never wavered.
    “It’s my baby,” said Porter, who retired from Methodist University six years ago and now lives in Kure Beach. “But it’s quite a drive from Kure Beach and I was making it every day. And with the cost of gas, it gets very expensive.”
    Plus, added Porter, “I was ready for some new blood with new ideas and more energy.”
    Porter says Martin will take the COS in new directions and, hopefully, build up its membership and audience. Porter says over the course of its existence, the COS has averaged between 55 and 60 members a year. And he says the reaction to the COS has been positive in Fayetteville, even though he says it’s tough for such a specialized group to make it in a military town.
    “It’s always had a loyal group of followers,” said Porter,“and there’s quite a talent pool here in Fayetteville — we simply want to increase the numbers of the members and the audience.”
    Martin’s plan to increase the size of the COS and its fans includes advertising and playing various venues. He also says that more people in Cumberland County need to be exposed to the choral group.
    “My plan is to do shows in as varied a setting as possible,” said Martin. “We need to travel; this is a large area, so I would like to do maybe an established concert once a year here (Methodist University). But the rest of the concerts are fair game. I want to find venues around the county. This is the Cumberland Oratorio Singers, so people from Cumberland County should be in the group.
    “And I think them staying in one place doesn’t work,” added Martin, “So my thinking is maybe taking one month and have a Monday rehearsal in Hope Mills, a Monday rehearsal in Spring Lake, another Monday here (Methodist University) and have them advertised so people can come.”
    Martin also wants to expand the repertoire of the group, adding new music while still keeping the old standbys such as the always popular community Messiah sing.
    “I just want more people to be exposed to this wonderful music and to make it the best,” said Martin.

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