Written by: Lori Boatfield
Photo by: Steve Babin
Billy Orton retired as Minister of Music and Worship at First Baptist Church, Huntsville earlier this year. He and wife Jane are now in a wonderful chapter of life filled with four grandchildren all living within a couple of miles from their home.
What or who inspired you to pursue a career in the arts, particularly in music?
As a teenager I was blessed to have a wonderful minister of music in my home-church plant the important seeds for my pursuit of music and the arts. He encouraged me to play my horn at church and to be involved with the choir tour as a featured brass soloist. Those experiences literally changed my life. I had never sung in a choir before. It thrilled me. I distinctly remember sitting out in the congregation each concert after I had finished my playing responsibilities and being enthralled by the choir’s music as well as his leadership of inspired music.
What has it meant to you to have been HCCA Artistic Director during your tenure, and how will you be involved as Emeritus Artistic Director?
The opportunity to serve as Artistic Director for HCCA for 17 years was not only a distinct honor, it was such a joy! I learned so much through the total experience. In particular, it helped to broaden my knowledge of repertoire even as it strengthened my skills as a conductor. Plus, we had lots of fun even as the organization grew and stretched in size, scope, and community impact. In my new role as their Emeritus Artistic Director I help in any way I can, always serving as an ambassador for this worthy organization. The current AD, Dr. Ian Loeppky, has been most gracious in enlisting me as guest conductor on several concerts.
Do you have a favorite composer or favorite piece to conduct/direct?
Favorite composers include Ralph Vaughan Williams, Johannes Brahms, Morten Lauridsen and Dan Forrest. The Brahms Requiem is a favorite masterwork which I have had the privilege of conducting with three separate organizations, two of them outstanding churches (FBC Huntsville and my former church in Northern Virginia). The HCCA performance of it (utilizing Brahms’ own four-hand piano accompaniment) undoubtedly ranks among the finest concert presentations I have ever done.
Talk about your experience as the director of the Living Christmas Tree. How do you think that production inspires its audiences?
The Living Christmas Tree is a unique entity indeed, one that touches the heart of our city and region in a way that very few experiences do. FBC has offered it as a free gift to the community for over 37 years, 24 of them under my direction. We have seen the LCT grow in its impact over the years, with the choir swelling to over 190 singers just prior to Covid. When you add to that number the additional performers (orchestra, musical guests, dancers and tech crews), you find that each and every performance involves well over 275 people striving to bring their best to the sharing of the Christmas story. And, what an incredible “wall of sound!” Serving as the director of such a production remains one of my most cherished experiences and career accomplishments.
What do you love most about Huntsville?
That’s easy – the people! Our family loves it here. The city is both broad and deep, with a population that is immensely gifted, intelligent, and so willing to give to others. Plus…and trust me on this…engineers know how to make beautiful music!