May Festival Chorister Beth Huntley Says Singing 'Feeds My Soul'

by RaeNosa Onwumelu

Singing has always been an outlet for first-year May Festival Chorus member and alto Beth Huntley. “My first performance was probably in an elementary school program, but I remember singing in my church as a little girl most vividly,” said Huntley. “It was an old country church, and the hymns lifted me in a way that nothing else did.”

Huntley and about 120 of her May Festival Chorus friends are performing in this month’s presentation of Schumann’s Paradise and the Peri with the CSO and guest conductor Paolo Bortolameolli, Dec. 6–7. The May Festival Chorus is the official chorus of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (CSO) and Cincinnati Pops. The annual May Festival, founded in 1873 is the oldest and one of the most prestigious choral festivals in the country. Under the leadership of Principal Conductor Juanjo Mena and Director of Choruses Robert Porco, the Festival hosts an array of guest artists in two spectacular weeks of programming.

While the Festival takes place each May, preparations begin long before the spring. Chorus members meet weekly at Music Hall, practicing every Tuesday evening for three hours, with additional practices right before performance days.

“Rehearsals involve a great deal of preparation before we walk through the door,” Huntley explained. “We typically warm up and dive right into the music without wasting any time. It’s challenging, invigorating and exhausting all at the same time, but I love every minute I’m there.”

Huntley is no stranger to the work it takes for successful performing. Originally from Adams County, Ohio, she started singing after hearing her father croon with his George Jones records on their old stereo player in the family room. “He inspired me and often recorded my brother and me on a cassette recorder. He passed away when I was very young, but I can still see him singing those songs.” Huntley began playing piano at the age of six and continued to play for her school band while taking voice lessons and singing in her school choir. She later earned her Bachelor of Music Education degree from Ohio State University and began teaching music right out of college.

In 2018, Huntley moved to Dayton, Kentucky, with her husband, Jerry, and two children, Christian and Tanner. She is a School Counselor at Peebles High School during the day and an aspiring pickle ball player at night. Since music is no longer a part of her day job, joining the Chorus was a natural way for her to connect to the Cincinnati music scene. “Everyone involved has been so very welcoming and helpful,” Huntley noted. “The other members are interesting and talented people who all have a reason for being there. I joined because I need music in my life in a way that both challenges me and feeds my soul.”

The 2020 May Festival will take place May 21–31. Visit for information and tickets.