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Director making music from the heart
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Forsyth County News

Van McCollum has been teaching music to children and adults for more than 30 years.

McCollum, director of music and conductor of the Cumming Playhouse Singers, has been a part of various musical programs throughout northern Georgia.

For about 10 years, McCollum directed the Gainesville Chorale, which he took to Europe and Carnegie Hall, in addition to annual performances of Handel's Messiah.


"We're trying to build the Cumming Playhouse Singers into a group like that, and we're well on our way," he said.

The singers, now 60 members strong, formed about two years ago, under the direction of McCollum, Cumming Playhouse Director Linda Heard and singer Jeannie Lipscomb.

"Linda decided it would be a nice asset to the playhouse to have a performance chorale group there, so she came up with the idea and they found me," he said. "I didn't have a chorale group, so I felt like it was time to start one again."

Heard said she chose McCollum from his many qualifications, but also his passion and knowledge of music.

"Van McCollum, with his very unique combination of wit and discipline, created the 'one voice' of the Cumming Playhouse Singers we had all envisioned," Heard said. "The singers themselves are due much credit for their patience while he molded and meshed their talent into a cooperative effort, and being able to accept constructive criticism toward the overall betterment of the group."

McCollum has lived in Forsyth since 1990 and has taught both band and chorus throughout Hall County, including at Gainesville College, and Forsyth County.

For the past six years, McCollum has worked as the chorale director at Otwell Middle School.

Though he loves working with children, McCollum said his work with the Playhouse Singers allows him to "enjoy working with adults for a change," he said.

Adults, he said, are often more appreciative of being part of the chorus. But recruiting singers in middle school is both easy and rewarding.

"You just open the door and they're eager to learn about anything," he said. "They definitely catch on in middle school. That's when they're the most pliable and willing... the kids are a little easier to mold. They haven't formed a lot of habits."

"It's challenging, but the reward is seeing them learn to be good musicians and perform well."

Not only does McCollum teach other children, but his own are also musicians. His daughter, Bryson, and son, Austin, both play in band.

Austin McCollum, a French horn player, is the captain of the North Forsyth High School Band.

"I was a French horn player myself, so now that he is, it's nice," his dad said. "I'm always proud of [him]."

As if raising children, teaching children and directing adults wasn't enough, McCollum has one more thing on his plate. He is a choir director for Christ the King Lutheran Church and its substitute organist.

In addition to his musicology degree, McCollum also holds a degree in church music, both from the University of Georgia. He also has a specialist in education degree from Georgia State University.

McCollum, who plays a variety of instruments, said he was faced with the choice between teaching band or chorus early in his career.

Despite his love of both, he enjoyed the freedom of chorus more.

"Band can be a little more administrative and choral is a lot more performance oriented," he said. "[With chorus] you don't have to buy an instrument."

"Everyone can sing. The question is how well. If you can speak, you can sing, and then it's just a matter of having you do it better."

To this day, McCollum still is visited by former students, some of whom "have gone into music themselves and done really well."

"It's always rewarding to hear of students successes. You feel like you made a difference in their life."