Lake Norman & Mooresville

Singin' in the rain, wherever

Residents can look forward to enjoying the sounds of a rain forest because of the efforts of the East Lincoln Community Chorus.

Their July 22-24 concerts "World of Our Dreams" will transport the audience on a musical journey around the world, from the rain forests of Brazil to London's Abbey Road, on to Italy, and back home again.

The group was organized in 2004 as a way to bring together members of the community who were involved in their respective church choirs.

"We are a great melting pot of folks from various other church choirs," said Susan Bish, East Lincoln Community Chorus president.

"We have progressed from a group of people shivering in their boots to the point where we present a polished performance, complete with choreography and costumes," said founding member Hal Sellers, whose wife, Mardy, is also a member of the choir.

Summer and Christmas concerts routinely play for overflow audiences of several hundred music lovers. "We always play to a full house, and we've had to go from three to four performances to accommodate the crowds," said Bish.

All concerts are free, and the annual budget of $10,000 is raised through donations and sponsors. "It costs more than you might think to put on a 'free' show," said Joe Lampron, the group's treasurer.

Weekly rehearsals for each concert begin 12 weeks before the performance, and each of the 50 or 60 choir members is given a rehearsal CD to use for practice during the week. No auditions are held; all interested singers are welcome to participate.

"We are not an exclusive group," said Pam Gay, publicity chairperson. "If we have a weak singer, we 'bookend' that person with two good singers. They may eventually drop out, or we just continue to rehearse until we get it right. Nobody is ever fired," she said.

Being a member of the choir involves a serious commitment of time, as well as a love of music, but the rewards make the process worthwhile.

"I've sung all my life, and rehearsing or performing is one of the highlights of my life," said Donnie Maggart, the group's operations and logistics chairman. "I have to juggle being the parent of two young children, 8 and 10, as well as a job in Charlotte, but I'll always find time to be in the chorus," he said.

The backgrounds of choir members ranges from the "singing in the shower" crowd to professional musicians. The coming recital, "World of Our Dreams," will feature an opera singer, Christina Richiger, a Charlotte resident who sang professionally in Germany after graduating from the University of South Carolina.

The piano accompanist and co-producer for this show, Jeff Perks, a Denver resident, is "a pianist extraordinaire," said Bish. "He performed at the White House at Christmas in 2008."

Gaile Broom, choir director, said "We compiled a list of where our singers have performed, but the list was so long we had to abbreviate it. It demonstrated how a love of music can bring people together. I see our mission as uplifting this area. The therapeutic benefits of music are difficult to measure, but nevertheless they are there," she said.

"There's a sense of community in being a part of a singing group," said Bish, who sang in her church choir in Freeport, Ill., and in the University of Colorado show choir. "When I didn't sing in an organized choir, I missed it.

"The little community of Denver has an incredible depth of musical talent, and people in the community are welcoming and encouraging."

That makes it doubly nice for performers. "Our bread is buttered on both sides. We love what we do, and we love the reaction of our friends, families and neighbors when we sing," said Bish.

Participation in the choir is often a family affair. There have been mother-daughter members, as well as father-son duos, and even a grandmother-grandson pair. "There's a heritage tradition of passing down the love of music from generation to generation," said Donnie Maggart.

"We try to involve young people in the performance so we can nurture their talent and their interest in music," said Pam Gay.

The official shirt worn by East Lincoln Community Chorus members at their rehearsals sums it up: "Without music, life would b flat."