Community chorus begins 30th season

April 18, 2005|by DON AINES

MERCERSBURG, PA. - In the fashion of Italian opera fans, the audience in the Mercersburg Academy Chapel stomped its feet and yelled "Bravo!" at the conclusion of Giuseppe Verdi's "Anvil Chorus" from "Il Trovatore."

In the manner of the Russians, the crowd clapped rhythmically at the end of a choral selection from Alexander Borodin's "Polovtsian Dances" from "Prince Igor."

The 120-voice Mercersburg Area Community Chorus, which has stretched its boundaries far beyond that Franklin County borough, began its 30th season this weekend with Saturday and Sunday performances before packed pews in the chapel.


Under the direction of conductor Richard Rotz, the director of music at the academy, the chorus performed Johann Sebastian Bach's "Cantata No. 80," Franz Schubert's "Mass No. 2 in G Minor," anthems by John Rutter and Mack Wilburg and popular choruses from operas by Verdi, Borodin, Gaetano Donizetti and Modest Mussorgsky.

"I hope you don't have hearing problems, because you might when you come out ... It's loud," chorus member Jeff Barnhart of Chambersburg, Pa., said before the concert.

Thirty-one sopranos, 46 altos, 21 tenors and 22 basses worked in close harmony with a 39-member orchestra and three professional soloists - soprano Jan Aaland, tenor Garry Grice and bass Kevin Pruner.

Rotz, who has directed the chorus since its second year, said members practiced one night a week for 12 weeks, but that they had worked with the string section only since Thursday. Some members have been with the chorus since its first year in 1975, he said.

Sunday's performance also attracted as members of the audience former chorus members such as Janet Opalinski of Reading, Pa., who was with the group during its first five years, and Kathy Good of Coatesville, Pa., who sang with the chorus in the 1990s.

Rotz said the inspiration for the community chorus was the academy chapel itself.

"We have this wonderful building in this little town that is yearning for beautiful music to be made in it," Rotz said. He, the late Tuscarora School District superintendent Wilson Kresge and a few other people organized the first concert, which Kresge conducted, Rotz said.

Rotz took over conducting duties when Kresge was killed in a car accident the next year.

In the beginning, most of the chorus was made up of members of Mercersburg area choirs, according to Rotz. Now, there are members from throughout Franklin County, as well as McConnellsburg, Pa., Hagerstown and as far away as Baltimore, he said.

"I've been singing since 1982 and I wouldn't come down here if I didn't get something out of every rehearsal," Barnhart said.

"I think it's a marvelous opportunity for people to enjoy an afternoon of joyous music," said Ed Miller of Waynesboro, Pa., whose daughter Liane M. Benchoff is one of the sopranos.

The public will have another opportunity to hear the chorus late this year with its 30th anniversary concerts. There will be a patrons' concert on Friday Dec. 2, two public concerts on Saturday, Dec. 3, and another on Sunday, Dec. 4.

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