STOUGHTON (CBS) – Stoughton gets its name from the notorious William Stoughton, Chief Justice of the Salem Witch Trials. It’s home to the only train station in Massachusetts with a clock tower. And a visit wouldn’t be complete without ordering a bar pizza at Town Spa, in business for 65 years.
But Old Stoughton Musical Society has been around just a tad longer.
“We are in the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest continuously operating music society in the United States. We are 235 years old,” Renée LeBlanc said.
The choir is led by LeBlanc, the society’s first female director since its formation in 1786.
What used to be an all-male choir looks very different these days. But the music has stayed the same, fulfilling the society’s original mission to preserve and perform the songs of American composers such as William Billings.
“After singing with different community choirs I found this place and thought this is cool, this is historical, this means something,” LeBlanc said.
The society performed at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893, and before that they competed in the first ever singing contest in America.
“Dorchester thinking, they were really good, and they were really quite good, challenged the Old Stoughton Musical Society to a singing duel basically. So, Dorchester sang first and then Stoughton sang. And then Dorchester sang again, and then Stoughton sang the Hallelujah chorus with no music just blared it out, no accompaniment. The crowd went wild and Dorchester just kind hung their heads and said ‘Yeah OK you won,’” LeBlanc said.
The choral society even abides by the same by-laws the group created in the 1700s. That means no singing in taverns, or late practices.
“They had a rule that you could not rehearse past 8:30. At 8:30 you had to go home because if you were a good upstanding citizen you should be home with your family,” LeBlanc said.
“I couldn’t imagine not coming here on a regular basis,” choir member Mark Sommers said.
Sommers and wife Holly drive an hour and a half for the group’s weekly practices and are currently preparing for the upcoming Christmas concert “A Light in the Darkness.”
“Have we all not been through darkness in the past year and a half, two years? There is a quote, ‘Instead of complaining about darkness, light a candle.’ This is our candle to the world,” LeBlanc said.
The Old Stoughton Musical Society’s live and in-person Christmas concert is Saturday, December 11 at 7 p.m. at the Trinity Episcopal Church in Stoughton. It will also be livestreamed on their Facebook page.