Note: Pam Leszar is a member of the newly formed Redmond Community Choir. She writes updates for the Spokesman on her experience with the singing group.
Our brand-new, never-having-sung-together choir is learning more than a dozen songs, and Sunday’s Christmas concert date is quickly approaching.
Did I mention that we’re performing before a sold-out crowd of more than 500 people?
Thankfully, we have gelled quickly as a team, and under choir director Ken Piarulli’s fearless leadership — “Don’t be afraid of those high G’s ladies, they’re your friends” — we have tackled some challenging musical arrangements.
We have a solid core of talented musicians with impressive credentials — bachelor and master degrees in music, as well as professional performing experience. Several are current or retired music teachers.
Luke Valenti, who has a solo part in “Glory Hallelu!” teaches theater and music at Redmond’s Central Christian School. He sang in a number of groups throughout high school and college, and has composed a choral piece. Soprano Leslie has performed with the Oregon Vocal Arts Ensemble, the Leyden Singers, and the Dickens Carolers. Whitney Freudenburg, who has a solo part in “Over the Rainbow,” received a scholarship for vocal music and minored in musical theater. Ben Lawson teaches band and choir at Redmond High School, has performed in countless bands and orchestras, and sings with the Oregon Ambassadors of Music Choir.
The list of talented musicians goes on.
Then there are the rest of us, who run the gamut from no musical background at all to experienced amateurs. The learning curve has been steep for some of us, especially for those who have never sung in a choir before or who don’t know how to read music.
This was going to be more difficult than I expected. I’ve always wondered how altos, tenors, and basses manage to harmonize when the sopranos are singing the melody right next to them.
I was grateful that as a soprano all I had to do was follow the melody line. It wasn’t until we began working on “Mary Did You Know,” that I realized why there were Soprano One and Soprano Two sections. It was right there on the sheet music: a Soprano One/Soprano Two split. This was going to be more difficult than I expected.
Stephanie Hudson faced a more daunting challenge. After the first rehearsal she came to two conclusions: 1) she was no longer a soprano but an alto, and 2) she needed a keyboard if she was going to learn her part. She also began practicing with her friend and neighbor, Mary Bollinger. Mary loves singing harmony. She has fond memories of the family singing together on car trips, her mother and sister singing melody while Mary and her father sang harmony.
When you can’t find your place on the sheet music — all those returns, repeats, first and second endings can get confusing — it helps to sit next to a strong singer.
Tera Mayhill comes to choir practice after a long day working with preschoolers as a Teacher Advocate at Head Start. Although she has young children and a demanding job, she jumped at the chance to be part of the choir — “Literally, I jumped up and ran to the computer to register.” She has a strong, beautiful voice, doesn’t lose her place on the page, and nails the Soprano splits.
Carol Crossen and I make sure we sit on either side of her each week. Stephanie and Mary have discovered a similar resource in the alto section with Shelby Snyder.
We have a growing appreciation for Ken Piarulli’s musical talent, dedication and leadership skills. Leslie echoes the sentiments of other choir members when she says, “He creates an environment where he makes people want to do their very best for him.” That’s why we show up on time and work hard. And why choir members meet weekly in small informal groups to practice. It’s why we play the demo clips in our spare time instead of listening to our favorite recording artists. And why some are even taking voice and piano lessons.
Participating in the Redmond Community Choir has re-ignited a love for music and the joy of performing in a choral ensemble. Luke finds it a sublimely spiritual moment when a large group comes together and sings.
Ben speaks for many when he says that “singing and performing is an enriching experience that heals and soothes the soul.”
We consider it a joy and privilege — and downright fun — to be able to share The Sounds of the Season with our community.