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A Farewell to Cantus Columbus, and Its Lesson for Us All

Updated: Dec 17, 2019

Written by Carrie Beth Wallace

There's something to be said for dedication, no matter what the effort is toward. Genuine, heartfelt, consistent work for the benefit of something greater than ourselves always yields growth. The act of a longterm investment of time and effort holds lessons that often cannot be learned any other way. Through triumphs and trials, the act of dedicating ourselves to a cause produces a unique type of personal development. But also, and perhaps most importantly, it impacts the lives of those around us.

The concept of dedication is something to which we can all relate. Regardless of age, marital status, or ethnic background, we share the common experience of embarking on a bare-knuckled quest to better something beyond our brow. We're made to improve. From the moment we're born, we begin learning how to adapt to our surroundings, and then, how to impact the world around us. The question is not if we'll invest our time in something. But when and why.

Remembering Why

Though we've all poured into things we've loved before, not everyone keeps the habit of dedication alive beyond adolescence. Do you remember what it feels like to be unquestionably dedicated to something? Everyone has a foundational memory that reminds them of what matters most to them in life. The key is harnessing it, discovering why it matters to us, and then learning how to never let it go.

What holds the meaning of dedication for you? A person? A place? A memory?

Is it buried under that baseball cap you adjusted for the two-hundredth time on your quest that summer for a breaking ball?

Is it in the graceful rhythm your hands finally found when kneading that first batch of perfect biscuits?

Or perhaps, dedication for you is heard in the singing of pruning shears, as you invest time in your land - intentionally causing destruction to make way for unknown beauty in the days to come.

Regardless of what taught each of us the lesson, we all know the impact that can result in dedicating ourselves to good things. The problem is that many of us forget the power of it. We get busy with our lives, caught up in our day-to-day routines, and we forget to look for opportunities to throw ourselves headlong into the world for our betterment, and for the good of others.

Dedication, In This Place

Thankfully, we live in a community where dedication has been considered an essential element of success for a long time. Servant leadership is simply a part of who we are as Columbusites, and I'll go toe-to-toe with anybody, on any day, to defend that aspect of our nature.

A desire to serve others runs through the veins of Columbusites as fiercely as the river that courses through our city. Dedication and service are as present as the clay in our soil. But we can't always see them, can we?

Though we herald service and dedication as a community, we do not often experience physical manifestations of them in daily life. Lifetimes are poured into local initiatives that impact us every day, and unless we ask the right questions, it's easy to remain in the dark about what's taking place behind-the-scenes. As in any community, the faster the pace of life gets, the easier it gets for us to take for granted the progress that has come from the sheer dedication of so many among us.

That is, until an occasion comes along to remind us.

On Beginning

This week, our community will close a chapter of its cultural heritage. After twenty years of performing together, local professional chorus Cantus Columbus, directed by William J. Bullock, will receive its final round of applause on stage Tuesday night in Legacy Hall at the RiverCenter.

Bullock began Cantus Columbus in 1999 as the city's first professional choir. Within five years of the group's inception, concerts began selling out. A niche had formed for Cantus all to itself.

But why?

Because someone took it upon themselves to begin.

Twenty years ago, Bill Bullock took a look at our community and saw a need that he could meet. He knew there were talented musicians in this place that needed a somewhere to exercise their gifts. Instead of moving to a larger metroplex, or bringing in professionals for a concert or two, Bullock tapped into sheer dedication and simply began.


Bullock did not build Cantus Columbus on his own, though. Here is where the power of dedication really starts to be seen. Dedication, you see, is contagious.

Bullock was joined by his wife and lifelong accompanist, Janie Lee. Together, they took off toward a now shared mission to build a professional chorus that would be sustainable season after season.

We know the story. It worked.

A Team Effort

It wasn't just the Bullocks, though. Many, many singers have contributed to the success of Cantus Columbus throughout the years. A half-dozen or so of the founding members will sing the final concert this week. Their dedication never wavering over two decades of rehearsals with demanding repertoire, engaging Bullock's insistent push for excellence, and through over thirty high-pressure performances on stage together. They never quit.

Dedication bred endurance. Endurance has led to impact.

A Note from the Inside

I can speak of the impact of Cantus Columbus from personal experience. In 2015, just months after my second child was born, I received an invitation to sing for Bullock in Cantus that season. I jumped at the chance. After five years of living elsewhere, Cantus offered a return to my lifelong love affair with classical high-brow choral repertoire I knew, treasured, and desired to perform again.

I knew what to expect. I was ready. Prepared. And so, I walked into rehearsal like a giddy little school girl returning to classroom after summer vacation. It was time.

What I didn't expect was what that season would hold for me. Beyond the music, I entered into one of the most trying times of my life. About half way through the fall rehearsal season with Cantus, our baby's health was suddenly thrown into question almost overnight. I emailed the choir to let them know what we were potentially facing. I assured them that once the tests were complete and I had answers, I'd return more dedicated than ever, ready to perform. I expected a little pushback, and maybe even some resentment for missing such important hours in the rehearsal room with my colleagues.

What I received instead was a lesson on what dedication truly means.

A Greater Impact

I was packing our hospital bag when my phone rang. "It's a minor procedure," I explained. "We just have to get some answers as soon as possible. I promise I will return to rehearsal as soon as possible."

I wasn't used to missing rehearsals, but I was used to the pressure of performing and the importance of putting the time in to achieve success on stage.

"I didn't call to ask about rehearsal," said the voice on the phone. "I called because the choir wanted to send their well-wishes, prayers, and sincerest love to your baby." My friend and colleague had called to simply express the group's dedication to our family, now considered an extension of the greater Cantus Columbus family. A dedication I understood immediately went far beyond the music. Period.

That phone call changed the way I saw Bullock and his ensemble that day. And it changed the way I viewed our creative community in Columbus, Georgia forever.

The calls never stopped. Meals were offered. Emails were exchanged in the waiting room. We were held and loved and cared for - far beyond the stage.

Thank heavens, our daughter was fine. A simple test showed that her terrifying symptoms were just something she'd outgrow. And, thank God, she has.

When we finally did perform the concert that December together, I left the stage with a renewed understanding of the power of dedication in the life of a community. Dedication to our work, yes. But more importantly, dedication to one another above all else.

And Now, It Ends

Bullock and his army of singers taught me a lesson that I will never, ever forget. A lesson that is echoed throughout out community's history and is cemented in the very ground on which it was built.

Dedication, like that of Bullock's and so many others in our community, is the most powerful gift we can offer one another.

I don't know if Bullock knew all of this twenty years ago when he founded Cantus Columbus. I do know that he loves choral music, and has an authority over its repertoire and execution that is unmatched. His work speaks for itself, as does the loyalty of so many of his colleagues and friends in the greater Cantus Columbus family. The final downbeat on Tuesday evening will not change any of that. Though the group will perform one more concert together in May with the Vega String Quartet, Tuesday's concert marks the beginning of the end for the ensemble.

The story of Cantus Columbus' Christmas concerts may end this week, but the impact will continue long after Bullock and his choir take their final bow together in May. The many lessons that have resulted from one man's dedication to a cause will live on. My story is but one among hundreds that have shared the stage together. The lessons have been different for us all, but the common thread we share was born of one man's dedication to a cause that produced a ripple effect in our community.

The impact will continue to spread. Through my life, and now, through yours.

And so it goes. On and on. Forever.

And may it be so.

Whatever we're dedicated to, may we give of ourselves wholeheartedly to our cause until the time comes when the impact ripples into the unknown.

And then?

May we begin again. With more dedication than ever before. ◼︎

"Where you invest your love, you invest your life."

- from Awake My Soul written by Marcus Oliver Johnstone Mumford.

If You Go:

What: Cantus Columbus Christmas, 2019

When: December 17, 7:30 p.m.

Where: RiverCenter for the Performing Arts

Cost: $36


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