Veteran Chorus members set the tone for excellence
Contributing their talent to Carroll Community Chorus, voices of experience pay off .
Carroll Community Chorus has 77 members including about a dozen who have been with the group for all or almost all its history. The Chorus will present its annual Christmas concert at 3 p.m. Sunday at Holy Spirit Church.
Daily Times Herald photos by Larry Devine
Carroll Community Chorus, which will present its annual Christmas concert at 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 9, at Holy Spirit Church, traces its history to the nation’s Bicentennial in 1976. And a dozen members of the 77-strong Chorus have been members all or nearly all those years.
For Chorus members, Christmas season arrives early. They begin weekly Tuesday night practices for the Christmas concert the third week of September.
And for veteran Chorus members such as Skip Raridon, the opportunity to sing in the Christmas concert as, well as the group’s annual Easter cantata, strikes a joyous chord.
Community Chorus has presented a Christmas concert since 1990, since Dr. David Martin of Carroll revived the organization following a few years of hiatus.
Raridon, who’s retired after a 38-year with the Postal Service in Carroll including a number of years as assistant postmaster, says, “It’s been a great run. David is very committed to what he’s doing. As he states each year, it’s a labor of love, and I think it’s that way for all of us.”
The music combines with the camaraderie to make Community Chorus participation rewarding for Raridon and the other singers.
“The camaraderie is just amazing,” says Raridon. “And everybody is there because they love music. I love the Christmas music because David picks good old standards, but we never sing them the same way. Consequently we find some very beautiful literature we get to work with, and it’s quite refreshing.”
Raridon continues, “It’s one of the most enjoyable things I do. I look forward to it (Christmas concert) every year and the same with the Easter cantata. And we’ve had very good support from the community coming to our concerts. That makes it well worth the time.”
Sue Feilmeier of Carroll graduated from nurse’s training in 1965 and spent the next 40 years working in that field. But she’s also found music good for the soul, and she’s taught music in local Catholic schools 18 years. She currently teaches vocal music at St. Rose of Lima Catholic School in Denison.
She praises Community Chorus, “There are so many excellent musicians in the group. There are a lot of music majors. There are both vocal and instrumental music teachers. There are people who have great backgrounds in both music performance and instruction. And there are also people who say, ‘I don’t read music, but I just like to sing.’ You put all those together, and the results are wonderful.”
She, too, treasures the camaraderie among Chorus members.
“One of the most important factors in people coming back year after year is the camaraderie, the bonds, the friendships that are formed,” she says. “It doesn’t matter if you don’t see these people for the other six or seven months of the year. Once you get back into the group it’s just as if you’ve never been apart. So it’s the camaraderie and the feeling of support and caring for each other. It’s such a warm feeling.”
Feilmeier says of the Christmas concert, “It’s a part of my life. I value the things it does for me. It offers me the opportunity to express myself and bring joy and holiday feelings to others. It’s just fun to do.”
Feilmeier credits director Martin with having “the unique ability to encourage people and push us to do our very best, yet while you’re doing that you don’t realize how hard you’re working because he makes it so enjoyable.”
Indeed, Raridon says, “Over the years, the music has gotten a little bit harder to sing, but it has made better singers out of all of us. From maybe five years ago I’m a better singer today now than I was then. It’s because we’ve had to work harder and develop more skills.”
Feilmeier cites Martin’s selection of familiar carols with distinctive, beautiful twists. She acknowledges with a laugh that Chorus members sometimes express anxiety over Martin’s selection of some challenging pieces.
In fact, she says, they may ask, “Oh, are you sure about this one? Is this a keeper?”
“But,” she adds, “he has that ability to say, ‘In the end, if you work on it, it’s going to be worthwhile.’ And he’s right about it. We’re very fortunate to have him.”
Sunday’s concert is titled “The Shepherd’s Carol” for one of the featured pieces and also will include: “Gloria,” “Silent Night, Holy Night,” “Every Valley,” “Still, Still, Still,” “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “Salvation Is Created,” “Sing We Now of Christmas,” “Joy of Every Longing Heart,” “Never Been a Night Like This!” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “O Holy Night,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “The First Noel,” and “Have You Seen the Baby?”
The concert concludes with “Hallelujah Chorus,” performed with accompaniment of an instrumental group from All Strings Attached Studio.
“They’re so varied (from year to year),” Feilmeier says of the Christmas concerts. “He (Martin) puts familiar favorites in, ones you can’t help humming when you walk out of the concert. And yet there are always the unique pieces that stick in your mind, that leave you thinking, ‘Oh man, I wish I could hear that one again.
“It has such universal audience appeal. Although people enjoy hearing what they’re accustomed to, all of a sudden hearing a new version can stimulate you and can transport you away from that seat listening. You close your eyes, and you’re somewhere else.”
Feilmeier has participated in music groups locally ever since returning to her hometown from college and joining an all women’s group known as The Notables, organized by Esther (Chambers) Halverson. Esther then launched Community Chorus to perform for celebration of the nation’s 200th birthday in 1976. Community Chorus later was directed by Carroll Community Schools music teacher John Erickson.
Feilmeier has seen Community Chorus membership slip to 20 or fewer and now rebound strongly.
Feilmeier says the local groups have “affected the community and people have enjoyed what we’ve done.”
Vickie Grundmeier recalls visiting home and attending a performance of Chambers’ Bicentennial group.
“I thought, ‘Gee, that would be a fun group to be a part of if I ever come back,’” she relates. “A couple of years later I did move back, checked it out and got in with it.”
Back in her hometown after teaching music at a Lutheran school in the central Missouri community of Stover for five years, she joined Community Chorus in 1978, with Erickson serving as director at that time.
“It was fun to get back to Carroll, meet some people and I like music,” says Grundmeier, who’s been a bookkeeper at Commercial Savings Bank more than 28 years. “So if was a good fit. I’ve had a lot of fun with it and have kept going with it ever since. I like the type of music and meeting the people. We enjoy getting together, singing together, singing for people.”
Grundmeier says the Christmas concert gets the season off to a joyous start and she also likes the sacredness of the Easter cantata.
Grundmeier says she’s seen Community Chorus membership grow, not only in membership but also in quality of performance.
“He (Martin) is amazed when we sometimes start a season, and he says, ‘Woh, you guys are way ahead of where you were last year.’”
Ann Tigges had been a Community Chorus member since the time she graduated from Carroll High School in 1980, but she left the group in 1995 when she moved to Ames and was working toward a degree at Iowa State University.
Tigges, who now works in office accounting at Kmart and does deliveries for The Apothecary, rejoined the chorus after returning to Carroll in 2004.
“It had grown so much since I was gone,” she says. “I’d come back and saw all those people in chorus, and it just sounded so cool. I love it.”
Tigges has performed in both the Christmas concerts and Easter cantatas.
“Christmas is one of my favorite times of year for music,” she says. “There are just so many things you can choose from. … (The Easter cantatas) give one more aspect and the opportunity to grow as singers.”
For director Martin, the chorus’ improvement over the years has been remarkable, and he says a big reason for that growth has been the presence of experienced singers.
Other longtime members of the chorus include Claudia Halbur, Kevin Patrick, Tom Loeck, Craig Rowles, Norbert Weitl, Dee Halbur, Shelley Hundling and Reen Rupiper.
“I’ve listened to some of our old concerts from about 10 years ago, and we’re doing things musically that we weren’t doing then,” Martin says. “I think that’s the longevity and more people understanding what I really want.”
With many experienced chorus members, Martin says, “They grasp each year more quickly what you’re trying to get them to do, and then the others follow their lead.
“I feel I do a little less teaching of the basics and I get to focus more on the finesse angles.”
That finesse, he explains, includes “the louds and softs and making sure they finish off phrases.
“Sometimes you hear something musically, and it really strikes you. You’re trying to figure out what caused that feeling. And it’s because all the little things were done — little things that make the ultimate difference.”
Raridon says Chorus members hope audiences share the joy they have in presenting the Christmas concerts.
“I know for me and a lot of other people it really kicks off the Christmas season,” he says. “When we do the concert we’re in the midst of the Christmas season, and from there it’s just one joyous time of the year. It seems to grow every year for me.
“I’m sure people of the community enjoy the fine arts, and this is one of them that a lot of people can participate in, and a lot of people can take pleasure listening. I hope it goes on for many, many more years.”