Buffalo Valley Singers was founded in 1973 as the Mifflinburg Community Chorus, a group formed primarily of church choir members to help celebrate the 150th anniversary of the First Lutheran Church in Mifflinburg. The name Buffalo Valley Singers was adopted in 1979, and the group became incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1984.
Charles Emerich, 1973-1982
The first director was Charles Emerich, who was the head of the Fine Arts Department at Mifflinburg Area High School. The group practiced at the Mifflinburg Middle or High School and performed one spring concert a year. Charles had extensive experience in conducting both adult and student vocal and instrumental groups. His wife, Mary, was a founding member of BVS and an elementary school teacher.
Thomas Ruhl, 1982 – 2003; 2011 – 2012
In 1982 when Charles went to Connecticut to become the music director at the Kent School, Thomas Ruhl became the director of BVS and served through December of 2003. He returned to the post in December of 2011 for 2 seasons. A Mifflinburg native, Tom graduated from Bloomsburg College in elementary education and took courses at Bucknell University in music education. He directed the St. John’s United Church of Christ (Lewisburg) chancel and bell choirs from 1981-1995, has been associate director of music at the First United Methodist Church since 1998, and has performed as a baritone soloist. He continued directing BVS after moving to Muncy when he became the director of major gifts at Lycoming College. His wife, Karen, sang alto in BVS and was the group’s music librarian for 16 years. Tom currently helps Karen with her floral shop and lives in Williamsport.
Rita Griffith, 2004 – 2010
Rita (Richard) Griffith was the director beginning with the 2004 spring season. Rita grew up in Lewisburg where she was a member of the high school concert choir, student director of the marching band, and a star of school musical productions. She earned degrees in music education at the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester (NY) and in choral directing at Yale University, where she sang in the glee club. In addition to teaching music to grades 7-12 in the Midd-West School District and giving private voice and piano lessons, Rita has directed the Black Tie singing group in Mifflinburg and is the current choir director at St. John’s United Church of Christ in Lewisburg. She and her husband, Brian, who is the superintendent of the Penns Valley School District in Centre County, now live in Spring Mills with their two children, Keith and Ashley. Rita currently is an administrative assistant at Penn State.
Connie Pawling-Young, 2012 – Present Day
Connie became the fourth director of Buffalo Valley Singers succeeding Tom Ruhl. Known to many area singers as the director of the annual pops concert at the Milton Harvest Festival for many years, she earned a bachelor’s degree in music (piano major and voice minor) from Mansfield University and did graduate work at Penn State and Westminster Choir College. She retired from teaching vocal music in the Warrior Run School District, but continues to direct junior and senior high county festivals. She has also been the choir director at the First Baptist Church of Milton since 1988.
Buffalo Valley Singers presently have two performance seasons – September – December for a Christmas concert in December, and January – May for a spring concert featuring a variety of musical styles. In 2018, BVS presented Rutter’s “Requiem” with full orchestra in May in addition to a pops concert (listen to excerpts from those concerts here). Since 2005, BVS has had most of its concerts at its home base, St. John’s United Church of Christ in Lewisburg and has performed at Central Oak Heights Campground in May from 2014 – 2017. For several years BVS has sung in the Evangelical Hospital Hospice Program’s “Lights of Love” program in December and Memorial Service in April.
Featured in various local festivities over the years, BVS helped to open the Union County West End Fair each year from 1982-1990. Beginning in 1983 the group performed a concert in Mifflinburg High School Auditorium for several years as part of the Fourth of July activities in Mifflinburg (in 1992 dedicating the music to Mifflinburg’s Bicentennial), later changing this annual concert to occur with Mifflinburg Buggy Days on Memorial Day weekend. In addition to concerts held in local schools and churches, the full-size group (24-90 singers) has performed by invitation in Buck Hill Falls, Schuylkill Haven, Scranton and Bucknell University’s Weis Center.
BVS has performed for residents of local nursing homes and retirement homes, as well as Laurelton Center, Selinsgrove Center and Danville State Hospital. Annual benefit concerts which were performed during the spring season have raised funds for Slifer House Museum, Hurricane Andrew relief efforts, the Lifeline and Hospice programs of Evangelical Community Hospital, the Union County Red Cross, SUN Home Health Pediatric Hospice Program, the Union/Snyder Habitat for Humanity, Mifflinburg Alumni and Friends, the Mifflinburg Area School District music program, the Blue Butterfly Fund, the Donald Heiter Community Center, the West End Library Building Fund, the Multiple Sclerosis Society, the Mifflinburg Area Military Moms Association, the Union-Snyder Agency on Aging, Women in Transition and the Haven Ministry.
In 1986 the Buffalo Valley Brass quintet began performing annually with BVS in the Christmas concert for over 25 years. BVS also had an ensemble made up of 4-24 singers which performed various programs by invitation throughout the year. Ensemble groups have performed at summer concerts and 4th of July and Victorian Holiday parades in Lewisburg, Christkindl Market in Mifflinburg, the Susquehanna Valley Mall, high teas at the Victorian Lady Restaurant, and other special events.