With the melodic sound of the children’s chorus in the background, practicing in the sanctuary of the United Presbyterian Church in Amsterdam on Sunday, I asked several members of the Mohawk Valley Chorus the reasons why they believed the organization has endured for eight decades.
Music Director David Rossi recalled a time around 2010 when he took over the reigns from long-time director John Nethaway. He remembered Nethaway telling him “it’s all about the music.” A commitment to musical excellence is something that Rossi says is the cornerstone of the organization, which performs a variety of different pieces at concerts throughout the year from both classical and modern composers.
“We always try to keep the music center to what we’re doing,” said Rossi and then reiterated, “It’s all about the music.”
One of the recent performances that still stands out to Rossi was two years ago when the chorus performed “Carmina Burana” by Carl Orff, which incorporated two pianos, a percussion section, and three soloists.
“It was a great undertaking, and it was a phenomenal concert,” said Rossi.
Charlie Snyder, president of the chorus and a member of 15 years, said he particularly remembers the chorus’ rendition of “Requiem” by Maurice Duruflé.
Synder recalled, “We requested no applause from the audience. While the requiem was going on we had a slide show of NY State veterans.”
“It was really quite a unique concert,” added Synder. “That was probably one of the ones that stick out in my mind.”
Sharon Bellamy, vice president, concert coordinator, and member of seven years said, “What we want is to bring the gift of music and song to the community. We live in a world where there’s such turmoil. If we can offer somebody a concert where they can just sit back and relax and enjoy, then our role as performers has been fulfilled.”
Behind the performances, however, I got a sense of the strong community spirit which holds the organization together, even through some of the recent changes in the director and accompanist positions.
“The culture of the chorus itself, the members are really very family-like,” remarked Rossi.
Both Rossi and Synder said that members frequently check up on each other when they are sick and offer support and encouragement.
Linda Meola, secretary of the chorus and member of ten years, said the recent transition of the director and of the long-time accompanist Alfred Fedak to Bradley Gregg showed the strength of the organization. Even though both the new director and accompanist had very different styles than their predecessors, Meola said the transition went well.
“It wasn’t a panic,” said Meola. “I was amazed at the seamless transition.”
Recently, the organization had a successful fundraiser, an event that both Rossi and Bellamy said showed how chorus members are willing to step up to help out.
“It’s not cheap to run an organization of this size,” said Rossi. “We expect members to be involved in other ways…it can’t just be a small group of people doing everything.”
Bellamy remembered, “Everybody just chipped in and everybody had a good time, and we were able to raise the funds needed.”
According to Meola, the chorus traces its roots back to 1935, when Mohawk Carpet Mills formed a men’s glee club. A ladies choral club was later formed by the company in 1941. In 1948, the two groups merged to form a mixed-voice chorus which eventually became the Mohawk Valley Chorus.
Bellamy said that at least seven or eight different counties are represented by chorus members, and that the upcoming concerts were examples of how the organization hopes to partner with different regional community groups in the future.
This Friday, at 8pm at the Scotia Reformed Church, the Electric City Chorus, a men’s a cappella group, will open the show. Saturday’s performance at 7pm at the Johnstown High School will feature a high school ensemble, and Sunday’s performance at 3pm at Amsterdam High School will feature the school’s select choir.
The chorus’ concert series is titled “A Christmas Tapestry” and will include a mix of traditional and modern Christmas pieces, and will incorporate both the children’s and adult choruses. Each performance will include an invitation for the audience to join in the singing of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.” Tickets are $15 for general admission, $10 for senior citizens and students, children age 12 and under are free.
(Photos by Tim Becker)