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.
“I had broken ribs and was in the hospital, but I couldn’t wait to get back singing,” Shank said. “You can be so weary, go there on Monday night and practice, and you are so revived when you come out.”
She considers each rehearsal a voice lesson.
“Dr. Carnine doesn’t allow us to do sloppy work,” she said. “We have to enunciate everything we sing. We have to feel everything we sing to project it to the audience.”
Coles, a longtime Joplin resident who with her husband operated Joplin Venetian Blind Inc. from 1965 until 1997, has been in the group since the second semester of its inaugural year.
“I consider it my Monday night therapy,” Coles said.
She sang in choir as a student at Neosho High School and took voice lessons as a youth, and said she appreciates the opportunity to continue singing well into her retirement years.
“It’s something new and refreshing every semester,” she said. “Al picks wonderful music — music you enjoy singing. I’ve made a lot of friends in Choral Society over the years. It’s good people, a good evening, and we enjoy doing the concerts for the public.”
There are no auditions for the group, and experience varies, Carnine said.
“We have singers from all kinds of backgrounds, from ‘bathtub singers’ to music degrees,” he said. “We welcome anyone who enjoys singing for just a $30-a-semester fee. At 15 rehearsals a semester, with each rehearsal lasting two hours, that’s $1 an hour. You can’t beat that. But really, people are doing it for the love.”
Accompanying the group on piano is McLemore, who was the piano accompanist for Webb City High School groups as a freshman and has played as an organist for various churches in the area. In 1991, the opportunity to serve as the choir’s accompanist presented itself.
“I’ve loved it ever since,” said McLemore, who also works part time for the Webb City Public Library. “It’s allowed me to meet many interesting people, and Dr. Carnine is wonderful. We have worked together for so long I can almost guess what he’s going to do before he does it.”
The choir performs three concerts each year, in the Christmas season, late spring and summer. The musical literature is varied and includes sacred and secular selections ranging from classical to Broadway.
The group’s summer concert will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday at Webb City’s First Baptist Church, 102 N. Roane St. It is the only concert this summer that is part of the event schedule for MSSU’s 75th anniversary.
“There should be 200 to 300 people in attendance if our average holds up,” Carnine said. “A major draw for this event is that our summer concert is always a patriotic theme because its purpose is to honor all who are or have been members of the armed services. All of the area service organizations have already received notice of the event.”
This concert is special, Carnine said, because it will be dedicated not just to members of the armed services but also to a former choir member, Jeanne Holz, who died last week at age 60 of complications from lupus.
The concert will open with “Trumpets Sound Forth” by Henry Purcell, and will feature a rendition of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” by McLemore on the piano. It also will include “Liberty: A Musical Celebration of Freedom.”
“It is both in reference to the statue and the freedom that we enjoy in the U.S. and how we do welcome people from other countries,” Carnine said. “The narration is outstanding, and includes a couple of prayers by Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address.”
SUNDAY’S CONCERT is free and open to the public. It will last about an hour. Cadets with the Junior ROTC color guard at Webb City High School, under the direction of instructor Stephanie Attaway, will present the colors during the national anthem.