Community chorale to return after two-year hiatus

After their last Christmas concert in December 2019, members of the community chorale packed up their music stands and filed away their songbooks, unaware that they would not be meeting again the next year. But now that two Christmases have gone by without this treasured community tradition, Bonnie Demerjian, the group’s longtime musical director, has decided it is time to bring the chorale back.

For Demerjian, restarting the community chorale is “a responsibility as well as a pleasure.” She has guided the group through 23 years of concerts and fears that if it isn't reestablished in time for the coming Christmas season, it may cease to exist.

In Demerjian’s experience, the choir helps fill a cultural void in town. “There just aren’t a lot of performing arts activities going on here,” she said. It is also a sustaining force for members through the dark winter months.

Steve Helgeson has been involved with the choir since its very first year, before Demerjian became the director. He and his wife, Jenny, both have a background in chorale music. After singing in high school and college, they welcome any opportunity to be part of a choir yet again. “Chorale singing gets in your blood,” said Helgeson.

Lori Bauer, also a veteran chorale member, participates in the chorale for the “sense of community” that it fosters. Members grow both individually and as a group as they struggle to memorize their parts and blend their voices. As the concert draws closer each year, Bauer enjoys listening to the choir progress from disjointed to harmonious. “It sounds really horrible at first, but by the end it all comes together.”

Though she missed the chorale during its pandemic hiatus, Bauer believes that shutting down was the right thing to do. “We were all in an enclosed area,” she said. “It would have been a super spreader.” Infection rates have now decreased enough that she is comfortable singing with the group again.

Listeners at the chorale’s upcoming December concert can expect both a return to tradition and a departure from past shows. As in other years, the song selection will include a mix of sacred hymns and secular Christmas songs, like “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” But this year, for the first time, the choir will have no instrumental accompaniment. Because the regular pianist’s eyesight is failing, Demerjian has chosen arrangements that are designed to be performed by voices alone.

The unique challenges of singing acapella make recruiting a large choir particularly important for the upcoming performance. Without a piano to help performers stay in tune, members of the chorale will have to rely on each other as they carry their complex harmonies.

So far, about 10 people have reached out to Demerjian expressing interest, but she hopes that more will join the chorale’s ranks before October, when practices start. To round out the group’s sound, she would like between 18 and 25 singers total. Those who would like to participate can email Demerjian at bonniede@aptalaska.net, or call her at 907-796-9632.

Returning members may constitute the backbone of the choir, but this year, Demerjian is seeking new voices. “I really would like to try and scare up some people who haven’t ever sung, or are new in town,” she said. The community chorale welcomes all levels of vocal ability. Those without sight reading experience will be placed next to a more experienced singer, who they can mimic until they learn their part by ear. Helgeson also encouraged youth, particularly high schoolers, to join.

The choir will meet once a week from 5:15 to 6:45 p.m. beginning the second week of October. Demerjian has not decided on a day to hold rehearsals yet—she plans to delay that scheduling decision until more members have joined the choir. Then, she will determine a recurring practice date based on the group’s availability.

Helgeson, however, is not concerned about the choir’s size. No matter the turnout, he is happy to do what he loves for another season. “We’re going to make it work regardless of how many people show up.”

 

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