Personality: Alma W. Hughes

Spotlight on One Voice Chorus board president

3/16/2023, 6 p.m.
Despite a few years of unexpected turbulence, Alma W. Hughes has led and sustained a Richmond-based musical group while forging …

Despite a few years of unexpected turbulence, Alma W. Hughes has led and sustained a Richmond-based musical group while forging deep connections among its members and the community.

For almost seven years, Ms. Hughes has served as the board president for the One Voice Chorus, which provides concerts featuring 90 to 120 singers throughout Richmond. She has guided One Voice since Lynn Atkins, its former artistic director, left in 2019 due to personal reasons.

Ms. Hughes’ work in this position, which focuses on using guest conductors to lead the chorus’ typical three concerts a year schedule, was disrupted by the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Yet, such changes failed to halt Ms. Hughes’efforts to keep OVC active.

“It was a position that needed to be filled and I love this organization,” says Ms. Hughes, when asked why she accepted the role in August 2016.

“We have a board of very capable people, so my job is to ensure they can contribute and serve where they will be their best. I can readily recognize these gifts in people, and I am good at getting out of their way!”

As a founding member of the chorus and a singer in the soprano section, Ms. Hughes has played a vital role in OVC since its founding in 2002 and since its nonprofit status was established in 2004.

At the onset of the pandemic, Ms. Hughes and the OVC board continued operating by switching to virtual meetings and shifting their focus from planning concerts to staying connected and overcoming the sudden changes.

One strategy that kept the OVC active was a weekly newsletter Ms. Hughes created to stay in touch with members, while also allowing them to share stories and videos, and plan virtual events such as book club meetings. More importantly, the newsletter was a tool to help boost the members’ collective spirit.

“OVC is a wonderful group, and doing the newsletter al- lowed me to be privy to so many examples of encourage- ment among the members,” Ms. Hughes says. “I received so many emails encouraging me to continue to keep everyone con- nected through the newsletter! It was very special!!”

OVC weathered the changes brought on by the pandemic better than some groups, says Ms. Hughes, noting that, while similar organizations expe- rienced financial hardships, OVC’s financial standing was fortunate to not be as negatively impacted. Ms. Hughes credits the organization’s nonprofit structure and its value to its supporters for its sustained success.

“As a result of the challenges created by the pandemic, there are significant needs in many communities,” Ms. Hughes says. “We were careful, frugal and have been fortunate that many of our donors continued to consider OVC an important part of their community.”

The group will introduce its new artistic director, John McLean, during its upcoming concert March 25 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

“We’ve been very ener- gized,” Ms. Hughes says. “The numbers are back, people are calling and contacting us. We are really, really psyched.”

Meet a guiding voice in a choir of many and this week’s Personality, Alma W. Hughes:

Volunteer position: Board president, One Voice Chorus. Occupation: Executive coach.

Date and place of birth: Sept. 29 in Portsmouth.

Where I live now: Henrico County.

Education: Bachelor’s in psychology, The College of William and Mary; master’s degree in industrial psychology, Springfield College.

Family: Daughters (one by birth, one by “selection” and two from a former marriage). One Voice Chorus is: An organization that was born out of a desire to create a place of true “harmony” and acceptance. “The Brave Zone” — where we communicate with each other honestly and give grace and forgiveness, seek authenticity, and acknowledge our collective imperfections without defensiveness ... a family that embraces those who come... a source of joy for me!

When and why founded: In 2002, One Voice Chorus was founded to be an intentionally integrated adult chorus. Incorporated in 2004 as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, it was created to bring a musically diverse range of excellent choral performances to people in Richmond and wherever there are those who need to hear our voice.

Founders: Glen McCune and Barbara Baynham.

How it got its name: Our founders wanted us to demonstrate that there was so much more that united us than divided us, and by getting together and joining our voices into ONE VOICE, we can help our community find the power in our collective strength.

Values of One Voice Chorus: We promise:

• To deliver an uplifting choral experience;

• To demonstrate radical inclusion and welcome;

• To increase understanding through exposure, enlightenment, and education.

When and why I became involved with One Voice Chorus: Glen McCune was searching for a partner to create an integrated group of singers in Richmond. When Barbara Baynham returned his call, they started with singers from their respective churches (St. Giles Presbyterian and Ebenezer Baptist); then a member of Ebenezer reached out to some singers who had performed with In Harmony and invited us to join — which I did. It was exciting to sing with a group that was going to do the kind of music that reached into so many areas!

Why I accepted position: It was a position that needed to be filled and I love this organization. We have a board of very capable people, so my job is to ensure they can contribute/serve where they will be their best. I can readily recognize these gifts in people, and I am good at getting out of their way!

Length of term: Longer than expected! When the pandemic hit, our focus was on trying to stay connected and survive being “shut down.” So, we all agreed to “hunker down” and continue to execute our roles as best we could. Now that things are moving into a more “normal” cadence, we have established our terms and l will serve as president until 2024.

Previous board president: The late Adele Johnson.

Number one goal or project as board president: During the pandemic, OVC (like many arts organizations) could not “do what it is supposed to do” and staying connected became a top priority! We worked to stay connected via newsletters, Zoom meetings, book clubs and just reaching out to each other. Now, as we return to what we affectionately call “normal,” OVC’s board is moving to a new cadence: increasing its size (and therefore its range), establishing additional committees, and reinforcing the infrastructure of the organization to ensure it future.

Strategy for achieving goals: Measure twice, cut once!! Look at your goals — have a vision of what they are; then plan for where you are going.

Ways One Voice Chorus encourages healing on and off the stage: Through singing (the music that is selected always has a message), education (learning the music and learning about the music are integral to the experience) and continuing to talk about it with each other.

What it takes to join One Voice Chorus: You must come to rehearsal and say you want to join. Glen would refer to us as a “Y’all come” choir – because we do not require auditions to join. (We do have an auditioned group within the Chorus – the Ensemble.) Many members do not read music... but if they want to learn, and they mention it, other members will work with them and help them learn! We are part of the chorus because we want to be. Our shared values bind us!

Upcoming events and how to attend: Our next concert is March 25 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 815 E. Grace St. The concert will be at 4 p.m. and a Pre-Concert Conversation is at 3 p.m.

A perfect day for me: A day spent with family and friends — especially my adorable grand- sons, ages 4 and 4 months. Something about me that people may not know: I am not a coffee drinker. As a child, my father said that coffee would stunt my growth. He never once mentioned chromosomes! I prefer tea.

Favorite song to belt out and how it makes me feel: “I will bless the Lord” by Byron Cage.

A quote that inspires me: “For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”— Amanda Gorman

My friends describe me as: I will share what I would LIKE for them to say: “Alma is a good friend, a caring person who has a drive to do her best in whatever she does.”

At the top of my “to-do” list is: Do some decluttering.

Best late-night snack: Ice cream (best anytime snack — even in the wintertime!)

The best thing my parents ever taught me: To treat every person with respect — regardless of their position in life. Every person deserves to be respected.

The person who influenced me the most: My mother (followed by several very strong women ... and my Dad.)

What I’m reading now: “The Light We Carry” by Michelle Obama and “Deep Purpose” by Ranjay Gulati.

Next goal: To have a GREAT concert on March 25 with a wonderful audience that is as excited to be there as we will be! Won’t you join us?