Community choruses have a proud history and none are more proud than the almost 90 people who belong to the Mohawk Valley Chorus. This year is the chorus’ 75th anniversary and on a recent Monday night at the Inman Center before the chorus started its regular rehearsal, several members sat down to talk about what life has been like in the MVC.
“It’s been wonderful,” said alto Kate Brust, who joined in January and drives over from Canajoharie. “I’d just retired from teaching elementary music at Fort Plain Central School and I wanted to do something.”
Although she has a music background, she found the discs director David Rossi puts up of her part in the Durufle Requiem, which will be performed Saturday and Sunday, March 14, a big help when she practices at home.
“I look forward to coming each week,” she said.
Mohawk Valley Chorus
WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday, Scotia Reformed Church, 3 p.m. Sunday, March 14, United Presbyterian Church, Amsterdam
HOW MUCH: $11, $8
MORE INFO: 842-7858, www.mohawkvalleychorus.org
Brust is a newcomer compared to alto Beth Nanartowich of Galway, who has been showing up weekly for 40 years.
“It’s the excitement of it all,” Nanartowich said. “It’s become a family to me.”
She joined when she was looking for a break from caring for her young children. That was four MVC directors ago.
So, you’d like to sing...
Interested in joining the Mohawk Valley Chorus?
-- Monday rehearsals 7:30 p.m. at Inman Center, Amsterdam
-- $40 annual fee
-- Call 878-7137, 864-5887, 883-8174 or go towww.mohawkvalleychorus.org
“It’s fun to compare how each had their thing and to see the growth of the chorus,” she said.
She also remembers the many winter months when it was white-out conditions and she had to drive long miles just to make rehearsal.
“I’m trying not to do that anymore,” Nanartowich said laughing. “I’m trying to be safe.”
But making a rehearsal of the Sentimentalists, a group of four women and six men from the chorus, is another thing. The group started 12 years ago to sing “oldies” at area nursing homes, weddings, funerals or birthdays and currently does about 15 events annually, usually a combination of a cappella songs or with their own pianist.
“We go through thick and thin to get to rehearsal,” she said.
Tenor Russel Dettenrieder of Johnstown, a 36-year MVC veteran, recalled all the times he had to drag the risers around to a concert or move the piano. One of the most memorable events was when the Olympic Torch Bearers ran through Amsterdam.
“We sang the Olympic theme out on Route 5 as they went by,” he said.
Other special performances he and Nanartowich recalled were the dedication of “Goldie,” the organ at Proctors; the Bicentennial, when many of the women in the chorus made period costumes; and the many joint concerts with the Oneida Area Civic Chorale, the Champlain Valley Chorale and the Depot Lane Singers of Schoharie. As many as 45 members of the chorus have also traveled through Europe six times giving concerts of American music over two-week periods.
Soprano Margaret Lazarou of Amsterdam has even more longevity, having joined in 1952. In recent years, she’s also become the accompanist of the 25-member MVC Kids for children ages 5-10, who sing at the Christmas show, and the director of the 18-member MVC Youth Chorale for teenagers, who sing at the pops concert.
The Mohawk Valley Chorus began in 1935 as a Men’s Glee Club for the men employed at the Mohawk Carpet Mills and was directed by John Gillies. Six years later, under director Reginald Harris, the company added a Ladies Choral Club. By 1948, the groups joined and were active performing at Army camps, hospitals and bond drives. For 14 more years, the company funded the chorus, until in 1962 it became an independent, non-profit entity known as the Mohawk Valley Chorus.
Under director Carl Steubing, one of the first highlights was to perform at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Henry Sullivan took over as director for a few years before John Nethaway became director in 1979 and served until last year, having seen a chorus that had grown with members from seven counties. In 1992, it had also established a scholarship to annually award a singer of high school age. That’s when David Rossi stepped in.
“I’d heard the group in its 2008 concert . . . and thought it a talented group who would work hard,” Rossi said during a break from a music class that he teaches at Schenectady’s Oneida Middle School.
He answered the newspaper ad advertising for a new MVC music director and a group from the chorus came to watch him conduct a concert of the Clifton Park Community Chorus. Rossi is also the choir director and organist at Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Christ the King Church. He was soon hired.
“I was nervous going in to the first rehearsal. It was the largest chorus I’d ever worked with,” Rossi said.
The camaraderie and the commitment of the group and his training soon kicked in.
“It was a smooth transition and I’m really liking it,” he said. “They’re even getting my sense of humor.”
Even from his early days with the chorus, he said he’s been impressed and humbled by how hard the chorus works. Knowing that allowed him to choose the Durufle and because he wanted the concert to honor the memory of those who have fallen in war. The program includes “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “In Remembrance,” “Invictus,” “We Shall Walk Through the Valley in Peace” and “Brothers.”
“Great messages can be given through music,” Rossi said. “It will be a concert without applause, to remember the men and women who are fighting for our freedoms and who paid the ultimate price. We will honor them.”