St. Patrick's Chorale plans farewell show

Group to disband after Christmas performance

Group to disband after Christmas performance

December 07, 2007|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN ? When St. Patrick's Chorale takes the stage at Christ's Reformed Church Sunday night, the performance will be a "two-box-of-tissues concert," director Sandra Shirey said.

The show, entitled "A Farewell Christmas," will be the final one for the volunteer singing group known for its free Memorial Day and Christmas productions.

When Shirey announced that decision at the May performance, there was an audible gasp from the audience. Since then, people have approached her to tell her how sorry they are that the Chorale is disbanding. It won't be easy for Shirey, either.

"I'm going to miss it because it was my baby," she said.

She explained why next spring will be the first one in 10 years she won't spend choosing a theme, selecting music, writing dialogue and tracking down period costume hats for the accompanying children's ensemble.


"I guess my creative juices just need a rest," she said. "I've been in music 40 years and I'd like to try something new."

There are other factors, too. Most of the members of the Chorale are older than 40, and for some, standing on stage gets harder each year. The Children's Ensemble, which once had as many as 25 members, is down to 10.

"It's getting harder to compete with the athletics," Shirey said.

The group also was running out of themes. The Memorial Day concerts have covered every major war in which the U.S. has fought, from the Revolution to Iraq and Afghanistan. In May, the program was a reprise of the group's signature work, "The Home of the Brave."

"What is left but to repeat?" Shirey said.

The time seemed right for a finale for the group that was started on a whim in 1997.

At the time, Shirey had recently become director of music at Christ's Reformed Church and was inspired by the dedication of the church's choir members. She invited them to her house along with singers she knew from her previous church, and from the community, to share an idea.

She played a piece of music she had fallen in love with decades earlier when she heard it on a WETA fundraiser. It was called "The St. Patrick's Mass," and the singers fell in love with it too.

"It's an old folk mass," Shirey said. "The music was just very uplifting, very Irish."

The group performed it March 23, and enjoyed the experience so much that they agreed to sing together again the following spring. St. Patrick's Chorale was born.

Over the years, through rehearsals, annual picnics and bus trips to perform in other towns, members developed a bond, she said.

"They are not just a group of musicians," she said. "A group that has that level of attachment to each other will perform better, with better resonance, because music is an extension of our emotions."

If that's so, then Sunday's concert will be infused with a powerful mix of feelings.

The hardest part, Shirey said, will be giving up the day, twice each year, when she presents the new music to the Chorale and hears them sing it for the first time.

But it's better to end now than to face the decline she sees ahead, Shirey said.

"Rather than keep on going and see my creativity diminish, their ability to perform so beautifully diminish, and the availability of the children diminish, I would rather go out when we can do an A1 show," she said. "We're planning to go out with a bang."

If you go:

What: "A Farewell Christmas"

When: 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 9

Where: Christ's Reformed Church, 130 W. Franklin St, Hagerstown

Admission is free and donations are welcome. For more information, visit

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