Sporting blush pink blazers and maroon ties, the members of the Roxborough Male Chorus gathered in Westminster Hall at Leverington Presbyterian Church on Sunday, Dec. 8 to perform their annual winter concert, “With Voices of Singing!”
Residents of Roxborough were able to get into the holiday spirit and watch the 16-member chorus perform a mixture of holiday classics and patriotic tunes chosen from their music library, which is housed at Bethany Lutheran Church.
Under the musical direction of Scott Santo, the men performed two sets of songs with a 15 minute intermission in between. Lois Terry accompanied on piano, as she has done for the choir for 11 years.
Linda Marie Bell, who serves as the public relations director for the Roxborough Male Chorus, said this concert is the perfect start to the holidays for the residents of Roxborough.
“It’s a tradition,” Bell said. “It’s not the Christmas season until you’ve heard the Roxborough Male Chorus Winter Concert.”
Santo has been involved with music since his childhood and found his love for music from his barbershop singing grandpa. After retiring from his position as director of music at the Ridge Avenue United Methodist Church in 2008, Santo joined the male chorus in 2015 and is currently in his second year as its conductor.
He always intends to build the most entertaining program possible.
“The first half of this concert was about male singers and songwriters,” said Santo. “We have a very robust [music] library so we search through that and see what’s new and what we haven’t done before.”
The concert opened with “Brothers, Sing On!” by Edvard Grieg and “Salutation!” by William P. Benetz. Following a medley inspired by pop band The Association, the choir sang “The Longest Time” by Billy Joel, which included a solo from second tenor, Chuck Poupard.
Another solo performance of “God Bless the U.S.A.” by Lee Greenwood came from Chris Ippisch, a baritone who, at 33, is the youngest member of the male chorus.
Following the brief intermission, the members sang classic Christmas hits, like “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” by Kim Gannon and Walter Kent and “Mistletoe and Holly” by Frank Sinatra, during the second half of the showcase.
Before the end of the concert, the audience was asked to accompany the choir on the songs “O Come, All Ye Faithful” and “Silent Night.”
Larry Hastings is the president of the chorus and a pre-literacy skills, math, science, and writing teacher at Center for Literacy, located at Peirce College in Center City. He joined the choir about four years ago and said the men of the chorus work hard to prepare for their annual concerts, one in winter and one in spring, with weekly rehearsals.
“We have two concerts a year, and for the winter we begin in September and we come to rehearsal every Monday night from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m.,” Hastings said. “We have a few more rehearsals, then, for our spring concert, which is in June and we start [rehearsing] in January.”
Santo said the men’s love of music and camaraderie with each other is the driving factor of the chorus’ success.
“We spend probably 50 hours preparing in rehearsals for a one hour performance,” Santo said. “It’s that kind of labor of love. We would only do it if we had the passion for music and for being together.“
Hastings said all men are welcome and encouraged to join this tight-knit chorus.
“There’s no tryouts if you want to sing,” Hastings said. “It doesn’t matter if you can sing. If you want to sing, you can sing with us.”
Many of the men in the chorus have their own story of what made them decide to join.
John Barkley grew up in Roxborough and celebrated his 89th birthday last week. He is the oldest member of the Roxborough Male Chorus. After finding his passion for singing during his time serving in the Korean War, Barkley was drawn to singing in choirs.
“I guess I started singing seriously when I was 16,” said Barkley. “I went into the army, came out again, and I went to a male chorus concert and thought, ‘Wow, I’d like to sing with them.’”
Barkley is the only first tenor in the choir and has been an active member of the male chorus for 65 years.
Others, like Hastings, were convinced to join thanks to the opinions of others.
“I didn’t think I could sing,” Hastings said. “I never sang with a choir before and my wife told me about this organization and I was resistant for a while. I finally went to one of their orientations or welcome weeks and just fell in love with them.”
Hastings and his wife, Loretta Lucy Miller, reside in Germantown and have been married for 15 years. She has attended the winter concert the past four years. She said her favorite part of the show is watching her husband sing.
“All the work they put into it, it shows,” Miller said. “He comes to the chorus, loves the chorus, loves the men, they’re like a family. It’s very beautiful, and he’s developed his voice.”
The Roxborough Male Chorus also hopes to expand its local impact.
“We’re trying to get more involved in neighborhood activities,” Barkley said. “I would like to see us get more involved in the community. We hope the community will recognize what we do.”
Still, while looking to expand its reach further into the surrounding area, what happens within the Roxborough Male Chorus remains tightly woven.
“It’s like a community when anything happens to any of us we all sign cards, people send emails, texts,” Hastings said. “It’s a very nice community of men, and I haven’t had that before.”
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