‘Could I Join the Choir?’

Locals perform spring concert

By Jodi Rawson
Reader Contributor

A few years ago I took a handful of private voice lessons from Karin Wedemeyer (founder/director of the Music Conservatory). It was one of the most challenging and rewarding breakthroughs in my adult life. I can sing! It is one of the most healing exercises that a person can engage in, and there is plenty of research to support that.

Alan and Genie Ball. Photo by Jodi Rawson.

Alan and Genie Ball. Photo by Jodi Rawson.

“Should I go to this concert?” I asked Karin. Singing lessons weren’t just a way for me to jump into classical music, but also a way for me to get out of my hermit comfort and find my voice again. I was referring to this notice on the bulletin board at the MCS in regards to a free concert put on by locals. Living out of town, I have to weigh the importance of events. The meaning of my question was: is this concert worth finding a respectable outfit, the money and pollution in gasoline I will burn to get there while battling social anxiety?

“Absolutely!” Karin insisted.

My daughter and I sat in the front… mesmerized. The harmony of voices lifted me. The passionate elder people performing were so inspirational that I was an immediate fan. Like many of the members, I wanted to the choir because I aimed to be closer to the music than the front row.

I approached Caren Reiner after the show.  At that time I didn’t know what a genius she was and I wasn’t intimidated at all, I just approached her with passion and interest. “Could I join the choir?”

“Do you read music?” she asked. In shame I hung my head. I was raised a jock and was totally illiterate in reading music. “That is okay,” she interjected, “we have a guy that makes CDs, so you can learn by ear.”

This is where Alan Ball comes in. He is a retired emergency room physician from Bonner General, and prior to that he was an engineer in Alaska. He spends around 100 hours creating CDs for each upcoming performance, so that people like me can join the choir. He is a comical and light contrast to the Reiner’s intensity.  We had a ski date this winter, shortly after he turned 80 years old, and it was awesome.

Alan and his wife, Genie Ball, help orchestrate the Gardenia center. People like Mark Reiner, Eric Ridgeway, Suzanne Frisken and brilliant travelers speak on a rotating schedule, but Genie Ball is an every-week leader. She stands up front and leads the group in song while Alan accompanies her on the piano. Both of them have had choir in their lives since grade school. Genie is a strong Soprano and Alan often performs Bass solos.

Alan plays by ear and understands that people need the CDs for practice.  He takes the pieces that we are performing and overlays them with strong piano keys to emphasize each part. On the first day of a new choir season there are organized stacks of music to fill our black folders and boxes of custom CDs.  Often the music presents Alan with the challenge of creating 8 different CDs… “Soprano 1”, “Soprano 2”, “Alto 1”, etc.

So I joined the choir a couple years ago—the youngest member. The average age of the Pend Oreille Chorale is probably over 60. It feels peaceful, inclusive and warm. I am embraced by elders and community. Nobody is too weird (me), too old (Charlie Glock is 97) or too illiterate musically (me again) to be excluded from this family. It represents a wide range of religious and political views on the spectrum harmonizing, uniting and creating beauty.

Our upcoming concerts feature some really fun and artistic pieces ranging from a piano duet and choir piece from Braham (mostly romantic and upbeat) to a beautifully written acappella written by Mark Reiner in 2014. Caren gives us the theory, the history, and the feeling behind each composition, and this understanding feeds our love and passion for the pieces.

I could write many articles on the orchestra, but my understanding of their dedication and mastery is too limited. Their performances are brilliant with dramatic dynamics (more “professional” perhaps than the passion of the choir) and I often close my eyes and let their music massage my mind.

The Reiners spearheaded the Pend Oreille Chorale and Orchestra in 1994. They have gained a loyal fan base with two shows per year, but they have announced recently that they will only be doing the Spring concerts in the upcoming years, which upset all of us, but we are aware that everyone is aging and slowing down.

For an eclectic variety of songs that inspire love, come to our Spring Concert Thursday June 15 or Friday June 16 at 7 p.m. at the Lutheran Church on Olive. It will be another year before we perform again.

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