Singing takes your mind off your troubles, says Bel Air resident Rosa Crocker, 74. One look at the Harford Choral Society proves it.
Members of this jovial group are more like a family than a volunteer choir.
Mrs. Crocker, 74, and Irving Chidsey, 68, the only charter members still active, remember how it all got started in 1954.
They recalled the organization's founder, Joseph Victor Laderoute of Bel Air, a professional soloist who, tired of commuting by train to perform in Long Island, N.Y., wanted to start a choral group closer to home. Mrs. Crocker, who sang in the choir at her alma mater, Vassar College, said she heard about the choral society being organized and "went over immediately to sign up because I had enjoyed my experience so much."
There was another lure: Shortly after its founding, the group was told it might be able to perform George Frideric Handel's "The Messiah" with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at the Lyric Theatre.
"The word was, if we were big enough, we'd sing with the Baltimore Symphony," said Mr. Chidsey of Havre de Grace. "We got big enough and we sang with them, but we were never that big again."
Although there originally were about 200 members, Mrs. Crocker said membership declined after the concert with the BSO. Membership usually hovers around 70 singers.
A passion for music and singing seems to be the only membership requirement. There are no auditions.
"There's no other group like this in Harford County," said Director Rick Lawrence of Sykesville.
"That's the beauty of it," said Havre de Grace resident Gunther Bienes, 68. "Everybody has a chance. Of course, we expect newcomers to be able to carry a tune."
Mr. Bienes' wife, Erna, 71, a retired nurse, was so impressed after attending a Harford Choral Society concert in 1963, that she brought her husband to a concert. The couple joined the choral society in 1964.
"We both love classical music, and we both love to sing," Mr. Bienes said. He is a retired interpreter for the Army.
Dawn Harrison, 18, a senior at North Harford High School and the youngest member of the choir, said she got involved in January after her mother and brother joined.
A program with Harford Community College enables students to receive academic credit for singing in the chorus. This contributes to the chorus' wide range of ages.
"We are delighted to have such a mixture of people," Mr. Bienes said.
Mrs. Crocker agreed: "You wouldn't think that students would be interested in this kind of group, but I'm glad they know about it and have the opportunity to keep singing."
Mr. Lawrence, director of vocal studies at Howard High School in Ellicott City and an adjunct professor at Harford Community College, often brings his students to sing with the choral society. He has directed the group for the past eight years.
"He's a perfectionist," Mrs. Bienes said of Mr. Lawrence. "He makes us work hard, but we love him for it."
Mr. Lawrence mixes his criticism with humor and light sarcasm to make the rehearsals amusing. Although chorus members often have to sing the same song over and over again, they seldom become frustrated.
"You know it has to be done," Mrs. Crocker said, "and you want it done right. You want to interpret what the composer had in mind to the best of your ability."
The chorus performs major choral works by composers such as Bach, Mozart and Haydn.
Mrs. Crocker said the choral society is an outlet for choral teachers in the Baltimore area, "because if you're a teacher, obviously you'd love to perform as well."
"There are many things people can do in their spare time, but for choral music, this one is right here," Mrs. Crocker said.
Members participate in various fund-raisers to supplement a $4,500 grant from the Maryland State Arts Council through the Harford County Cultural Advisory Board.
This year, the choral society will sponsor a $500 scholarship to help a high school senior study vocal music in college, Mr. Chidsey said.
In addition to providing a musical outlet, the chorus also offers many social activities.
"With any kind of volunteer group people come to see each other as much as to sing," said Barbara Waite of Monkton in Baltimore County.
Mrs. Crocker agreed. "It's very fulfilling and you meet very nice people. A lot of friendships have developed," she said.
* April 8 at 7 p.m. at North Harford High School.
* April 9 at 3 p.m. at Bel Air United Methodist Church.
* May 7, with the Bel Air town band, at 3 p.m. at Harford Community College. Tickets cost $8 for adults and $4 for students.
* July 12, with a free summer concert, at 7 p.m. at the William A. Humbert Amphitheater in Shamrock Park in Bel Air.
For more information, call Bob Kramer, 893-1512.