They come from all walks of life from surrounding towns with one common love: music.
Pat Shank, 83, is a retired Joplin nurse who finds energy in singing. Jeannine Coles, 77, grew up in Neosho, taking voice lessons, and welcomed the chance to continue the hobby she loves. Eleanor McLemore, 75, has played the piano since her freshman year at Webb City High School.
Each Monday night, they and about 50 others from Joplin, Carthage, Carl Junction, Galena, Kan., and other area communities gather in the music building at Missouri Southern State University to rehearse under the direction of Al Carnine.
That’s been happening since 1980, when Carnine, who joined the faculty in 1977, sensed a need in the community that wasn’t being met.
“I noted that there was nothing around here for adults who love to sing except church choirs,” he said. “There were a couple of bands in the area — community bands — that took care of the needs of those who were instrumentalists, but there was nothing for those who are vocal.”
The result was the Choral Society, which had its first rehearsal in the spring of 1980. From a modest beginning of 27 voices, the ensemble has had a peak of almost 80 and is averaging close to 50 this year. The national average for a community chorus, Carnine said, is about 30.
“There are so many people who grew up singing in high school and/or college choirs who had no outlet available to them for singing secular as well as sacred music,” Carnine said.
The Choral Society operates under the auspices of the university’s Division of Lifelong Learning, in cooperation with the Department of Music. Membership is open without audition to anyone of college age or older — although most of the voices tend to fall in the “or older” category.
No ‘sloppy work’
Shank, who graduated from nurses’ training at St. John’s Regional Medical Center in 1952 and in her retirement now volunteers at Freeman Hospital West, said she is proud to be a founding member of the group.
“It started with just a group of men and women who liked to sing, and it has grown steadily through the years,” she said.
The group’s biggest concert was close to 200 voices, she said, although she can’t verify the year, as her scrapbook clippings and programs from past events were blown away in the 2011 tornado.