The following article first appeared in the November "Spire," the monthly newsletter of Third Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, PA:
You don’t often get a chance to go back and revisit another time of your life, see old friends, and enjoy making music with them as if stepping through a window into the past. But this past week, I was in Illinois, playing a concert with the community choir known as The Chorale, with chorus and orchestra and our guest conductor Dr. Craig Jessop.
The group formed almost accidentally in 1982 in order to sing Christmas carols at the local mall. Then they began to meet regularly and grew in size until their 70 voice ensemble was practicing every Sunday night from September through May and singing at least three concerts a year. I became their accompanist in 2009 and played for them until we left Illinois in 2016. At that time the group’s schedule included a “Celebration of Life” concert the first weekend of November, and a New Year’s Eve concert at the restored vaudeville theater. I would warm up the crowd by playing the Mighty Wurlitzer and then spend the next two hours bobbing up and down from the stage to the pit. It was a fun and exhausting evening. In the spring the final concert would feature winners of the Chorale’s college scholarships.
Every 18 months a guest would come and we would have a festival concert, usually adding around 30 singers and an orchestra. My first time at one of these I wondered how I was going to be able to get through that throng of singers to the piano! Another time I remember being able to feel the folders of the altos against the back of my head.
Dr. Jessop became our favorite clinician, and has returned to lead us about 7 times (this was number 8). He is a former conductor of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and leads huge choir festivals around the country. The Chorale sang with him in Utah and Washington D. C. as well as going on our own international tours. I joked that with our mere 100 singers and 20 piece orchestra we were his chamber group. What is it about our group that had him coming back each time?
After 37 years, founding director Julie Beyler prepared the group for its final concert. Some of its members have already passed on, including the lady who organized the parties at the end of every semester full of food and song parodies. The group enjoyed getting together to have fun when the maestro wasn’t working them so hard that every so often a group of regular folks from small town Illinois could sound like a top-tier professional choir. It hardly seems possible, but it did come at the price of long rehearsals.
That phase of my life ended three years ago. Usually it is just in literature that a character is able to go back and visit the past, but in a couple of weeks it will be as if a switch had been thrown and a wish was granted, to see the people doing their thing one more time, a last hurrah, a fitting coda to a special time with some special people.
on the mother ship, www.pianonoise.com, we're celebrating Scott Joplin's birthday and trying to be thankful for everything.