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Children of God Oratorio Collection

Identifier: RG 11-11.01

Scope and Contents

This collection includes correspondence, photos, programs, publicity materials, printed music, and recordings regarding the creation and production of the Children of God: An Oratorio on the Brotherhood of Man. The bulk of the collection comes from the papers of Clara Chassell Cooper, with some added material from the Berea College Music Department.

Listen To Performance Recordings


  • Other: Majority of material found in 1953-1980


Conditions Governing Access

Records can be accessed through the Reading Room, Berea College Special Collections and Archives, Hutchins Library, Berea College.

Conditions Governing Use

There are no restrictions on use by researchers other than federal copyright restrictions. Please cite all information.

Biographical or Historical Information

Cooper, an associate professor of psychology and eventual chairman of the Psychology Department, received inspiration for the oratoriofrom both traditional and contemporary sources. In December 1952, she attended a performance of Handel’s Messiah, its text taken from the King James Version of the Bible. Also that month, she received a copy of the recently published Revised Standard Version of the Bible. It occurred to her that an oratorio based on the Revised Standard Version could give a modern voice to the tradition of putting biblical texts to music.

With Berea’s centennial approaching, Cooper decided to choose a brotherhood theme for the oratorio, based on the Berea College motto, “God hath made of one blood all nations of men.” The oratorio has two parts, based on the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, respectively. In her Jan. 14, 1957 account, “Brief History of the New Oratorio CHILDREN OF GOD and Its Relation to Berea College,” Cooper explained that Part I (subtitled “Am I My Brother’s Keeper?”), “portrays the development of the idea of brotherhood from the creation of man and the story of Cain and Abel, through the giving of the law, the messages of the [biblical] prophets, and the story of Ruth, to the concept of triumph of justice and righteousness under a universal God of righteousness.”  She stated that Part II (subtitled “Who is MyNeighbor?”)  “extends the idea of brotherhood from the emphasis on brotherly love as the test ofdiscipleship and a condition of eternal life, through the teachings of Jesus and the apostles, to itsculmination in the realization of a brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God.”By November 1953 she had completed a preliminary edition of the libretto, and by early 1954 had received advice and support from a number of Berea College associates, including department of music chairman Rolf Hovey and Theodore Cronk, business manager for the then-in-development out door drama Wilderness Road, the major event planned for the Centennial observance. Because of the college’s financial commitment to Wilderness Road, which included building a performance facility, financial support for Children of God was not immediately available. Cronk offered to assist Cooper in locating other potential financial backers for the oratorio, and his interest in the project helped bring about the co-sponsorship of the oratorio by Berea College and the NCC.  Thor Johnson, conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, also served the NCC as chairman of its Commission on Music in its Department of Worship and the Arts. In that capacity, he supervised the commissioning of a composer for the oratorio score. Johnson bestowed the final selection process onthe music department of Berea College, and in January 1956 the department announced that thecommission had been awarded to Normand Lockwood, an acclaimed composer of sacred choral music.

By October 1956 Lockwood had completed both the piano/vocal and orchestral scores. Meanwhile, Hovey had begun selecting members for the 90-member oratorio choir, which was made up of BereaCollege students, faculty, and staff. Throughout that fall, he conducted rehearsals and directed the choir in performing sections of the oratorio at campus chapel services.These preparations for Children of God had an ironic twist. The time needed to rehearse the new oratorio meant that there was no time to prepare for the annual performance of the traditional oratorio that had helped inspire Children of God in the first place. A 1956 performance of the Messiah – which would have been its 50th presentation at Berea College – had to be cancelled. Johnson’s interest in the oratorio led to its inclusion in the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s 1956-57concert series. Due to time constraints, only Part I was performed. World-renowned pianist GinaBachauer was featured, and guest soloists were Donald Gramm, bass; Franklin Bens, tenor; Edgar Keenon, baritone; Marcelle Bolman, soprano, and Shirley Delp, contralto.On Feb. 17, 1957 CBS radio broadcast a recording made from the Cincinnati performances, which was heard nationwide. When the entire oratorio was performed at Union Church three months later, the adult choir was joined by a children’s choir, which was needed for Part II. Soloists at that performance included two members of the Berea College music faculty, soprano Bonnie Gibson and alto Ann Huddleston; also, Berea College music student Richard Hipps sang the baritone solos. James King sang tenor, and Donald Gramm, amember of the City Center Opera of New York City, again was bass soloist. Berea College music instructor Donald Farley was piano accompanist, and concert master was Joseph Firszt, director of instrumental music at Berea College. Thirty members of the Louisville Symphony Orchestra provided accompaniment.Composer Lockwood attended both the Cincinnati and Berea performances of the oratorio. After those events, Lockwood continued to correspond with both Cooper and Hovey on matters relating to the oratorio, as well maintaining social correspondence for over 20 years.

Complications regarding the  copyrighting of the oratorio is the focus of part of the correspondence, as well as details on other performance opportunities for the oratorio. Materials in this collection do not indicate that the oratorio has been performed again in its entirety. Selections from the oratorio have been presented at Berea College on several occasions, such as at baccalaureate services. Also, Hovey included portions of the oratorio in the Berea College Chapel Choir’s1971 spring tour repertoire.  At least two other colleges have given performances of substantial portions of Children of God. On May8, 1960 the Southwestern Singers and Orchestra, of Southwestern College in Memphis, performed selections at the annual spring vesper service at Evergreen Presbyterian Church, Dr. VernonH. Taylor directing. On May 2, 1971, the Shorter College Oratorio Choir performed excerpts from the oratorio at First Baptist Church, Rome, Ga., in celebration of National Music Week.

After retiring from Berea College in 1963, Clara Chassell Cooper held teaching posts at several other colleges – West Virginia Wesleyan College, Buckhannon, W. Va.; Talladega College, Talladega, Ala., and Tunghai University in Taiwan. She arranged for the oratorio to be heard in some form in those places, either via tape recordings or by arranging for the performance of parts of the oratorio in worship services. Cooper had hopes of seeing the full oratorio performed again, along with a presentation of slides of great works of religious art, but no such performance occurred before her death at age 99 in1993. On May 25, 1974, Berea College conferred the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Music upon Normand Lockwood, for his role in spreading the message of brotherhood and Berea College’s motto through a major musical work.

Note written by


4.20 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



Children of God: An Oratorio on the Brotherhood of Man is a major choral work commissioned in 1956 by Berea College and the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America (NCC). A specially created Berea College Oratorio Choir first performed the work the following year in two significant events: Part I only was presented on both Feb. 1 and 2, 1957 at the Cincinnati Music Hall,with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and guest soloists, Thor Johnson conducting. The entire oratorio was performed on May 15, 1957 at Union Church in Berea, with guest soloists and members ofthe Louisville Symphony Orchestra, Rolf Hovey conducting.  The idea for the oratorio was conceived in 1952 by Berea College faculty member Clara Chassell Cooper as a tribute to the college’s upcoming 100th anniversary. For that reason, the work sometimes is referred to as the centennial oratorio, even though lengthy project development delayed the premiere performances until two years after the 1955 Centennial celebration.

Arrangement Note

The collection is arranged in series as follows:

Series 1: History - This series, arranged by topic, presents an overview of the oratorio’s conception, development, and performances.  Detailed historical accounts written by Clara Chassell Cooper, which she presented as speeches or submitted for magazine publication, are included here. Newspaper and magazine clippings, including a magazine article by Rolf Hovey, also provide in-depth information on the oratorio.

Press releases, campus announcements, other promotional items, performance programs and program drafts, and photos are contained in this series. Also included are copyright documents; biblical quotation guidelines from the National Council of Churches; biographical information on Thor Johnson and Normand Lockwood; copies of some of Lockwood’s other choral scores; Cooper’s administrative notes on oratorio details; and Cooper’s notes and outlines for presentations she gave on the creative process involved in developing the libretto.

Arranged by person as well as chronologically, this series contains correspondence regarding various aspects of the oratorio’s development and performances. The material covers a time span from 1953 to 1980.

Series 2: Correspondence - About half of this series is correspondence between Clara Chassell Cooper and Normand Lockwood. Through letters, post cards, and telegrams, they communicated on topics such as the setting of the libretto to music; information on rehearsals and performances; and complications involved in the copyrighting of the oratorio. Social communications, such as information about mutual acquaintances, details of travel plans, and holiday greetings, also are woven into their correspondence.

This series also contains Cooper’s and Lockwood’s respective correspondence with others connected with the oratorio, such as Berea College president Francis S. Hutchins; Rolf Hovey and other Berea College faculty and staff members; Thor Johnson and others associated with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra; representatives of the National Council of Churches; attorneys and others involved in copyright resolution; representatives of other colleges, churches, and music organizations considering performances of the oratorio; and also some fan mail from admirers of the oratorio.

The correspondence also includes some letters between people other than Cooper and Lockwood, such as communications between attorneys and music publishers, and correspondence between Hovey and others involved in oratorio productions.

Series 3: Recordings - Recordings of both rehearsals and performances of the oratorio are included in this series. Follow links in the Box 5 recordings list to listen to Oratorio performances.

A recording of a February, 1957 rehearsal of the Berea College Oratorio choir with Thor Johnson is included here on a cassette listening copy. The recording provides a behind-the-scenes glimpse of oratorio preparations, and demonstrates Johnson’s rapport with the choir members.

Part I of the oratorio was performed in concerts on Feb. 1 and 2, 1957 in Cincinnati, Ohio, by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Berea College Oratorio Choir, and guest soloists, with Johnson conducting. A recording made from those performances was broadcast by CBS Radio on Feb. 17, 1957. This series contains a cassette listening copy of that broadcast.

The premiere of the entire oratorio occurred on May 15, 1957, at Union Church in Berea, by the Berea College Oratorio Choir, guest soloists, and members of the Louisville Symphony Orchestra, with Rolf Hovey conducting. Listening copies of that performance are included here in both cassette and compact disc formats. A recording of the May 15, 1957 rehearsal in preparation for that performance also is included here in a cassette listening copy,

The original recordings of these rehearsals and performances, on reel-to-reel tape, are contained in this collection, but are not available for public use.

Series 4: Libretto - In constructing the libretto, Cooper made numerous drafts and revisions, both during her initial conception of the project, and also after its official commissioning by Berea College and the National Council of Churches of Christ. Early drafts were used by Cooper to develop the oratorio concept and submit it for commissioning consideration. Later drafts were used in a variety of ways, such as by Lockwood in setting the words to music; as conductors’ and musicians’ references; and for distribution by Cooper as souvenirs or to generate interest from other performance organizations.

Included in this series are Cooper’s libretto notes and outlines, and drafts and revised editions of the libretto. Drafts and some versions are undated, with other versions dating from 1953 to 1956. Some versions bear Cooper’s annotations, while others are unannotated, except for Cooper’s autograph or inscription.   Also included here is Cooper’s research on possible titles for the oratorio.

Series 5: Printed and Manuscript Music - Portions of the oratorio are included here in several forms. Five songs from the oratorio, published in octavo form by Choral Services Inc., are here, as well as copies of Parts I and II of the conductor’s score; a performance copy of Part I of the piano/vocal score); portions of the oratorio manuscript score: and portions of the instrumental parts in manuscript.

Related Publications

The Music Program of Berea College (Kentucky) and the Folk Music Heritage of Appalachia, by John Melville Forbes, 780.72 F693m The libretto of Children of God is available in circulating copies; 783.3 C776chi. The complete music score of Children of God is located in the Berea Collection of Special Collections, 783.3 L817c

Children of God Oratorio Collection Finding Aid
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Revision Statements

  • 2023-06: The finding aid was updated in 2015. Finding aid updated and digital object added in 2023.

Repository Details

Part of the Berea College Special Collections and Archives Repository

Hutchins Library
100 Campus Drive
Berea Kentucky 40404 US