Lifting those voices in praise

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Each year, the Alleluias Christian chorale works to keep its performance season booked, travels to concerts in and out of state with an elaborate sound system and even has a fan base.

But for members of the 32-year-old interdenominational ensemble based in Howard County, the show is all about God.

"We want to get around as much as possible," said Billy Lewis, Alleluias' president. "We want to spread the Gospel as much as we can."

The chorale will conduct its annual open auditions at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Rolling Hills Baptist Church in Clarksville for a keyboardist, bass alto and high soprano.

An offshoot of the Howard County Interfaith Choir, the Alleluias was founded in 1971 so members could perform more often. The Interfaith Choir presents only two church concerts annually before Easter.

Variety of venues

"I want to perform at a variety of venues - not just church," said Lewis, a tenor who joined 10 years ago.

The chorale has performed on the Eastern Shore, in Baltimore and Carroll counties, Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania.

"We go anywhere anybody asks us," said music director Elaine Everhart.

The Alleluias perform traditional liturgy, contemporary praise and worship music, and jazz arrangements of spiritual music.

The group originated as a double octet of 16 singers. Gene Pehovic, leader of the Interfaith Choir, directed the group. When Pehovic retired in 1987, Alleluias' members asked Everhart to take over.

Everhart studied music education with an emphasis on choral music and piano at Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. She had also taught choral music at Glenelg, Wilde Lake and Oakland Mills high schools.

"I love choral music," Everhart said. "There's nothing quite like making beautiful Christian music for the Lord. It takes you to a spiritual realm outside of this world. You feel a oneness with God."

The group has expanded and includes about 45 men and women. "We don't want to get too big because it's harder to get in small venues," Everhart said. "We also try to keep a balance of voice parts so we don't have too many sopranos and not enough tenors."

Members of the Alleluias are church musicians.

"Most are the better singers from their church choirs," said Bob Moore, the Alleluias' piano accompanist. "So we blend together very well."

The group's only original member is assistant director Charles Leonard, who also sings with the Interfaith Choir.

He was the Alleluias' first accompanist, narrated its cantatas and is a member of the tenor section. "I've been interested in music all my life and enjoy choral work," said Leonard, a church organist. "I plan to be with the group as long as I can."

A 9-month season

During its nine-month performing season from October through June, the chorale performs one to two times a month at churches, nursing homes, weddings, banquets, parties and the Howard County Detention Center in Jessup. "More often than that we find it too exhausting with our other obligations," Everhart said.

The chorale does not perform in January so members can plan their new spring program.

"We are switching from the Nativity to Resurrection," Everhart said.

Next month, the group will sing at the wedding of one of its vocalists. "It's like an extended family," Moore said. "There's a lot of Christian fellowship. We care about each other."

Although the chorale does not charge a fee, the group relies on offerings. They receive $2,000 to $5,000 a season, which is used to purchase music arrangements and maintain the sound system, keyboard, microphones and trailer that transports the equipment.

Rehearsals have been held at Rolling Hills since last year, when Everhart became the church's minister of music and worship. The group initially had a rotating rehearsal schedule at different churches.

"It got so confusing," Everhart said. "One night, I went to the wrong church, and then I went to another wrong church and finally ended up at the right church. I decided to just stick to one place if they let us use their resources. The churches have been every generous."

Shows are limited to one Sunday morning each month so that members do not miss performing at their own churches.

The chorale presents about four Christmas concerts annually, beginning in November. One show this year will be at Rolling Hills. Last year, it also performed in Catonsville and Eldersburg.

For the past 15 years, the Alleluias also presented a Christmas concert and occasional spring concert at the Detention Center.

"They are part of our Christmas program," said Chaplain Guy Nichols, director of the Christian Jail Ministry. "They're fantastic and the inmates are just overwhelmed. You can tell they enjoy what they're doing."

Auditions will be by appointment only. To participate in the music ministry, group members must be practicing Christians. Information or to schedule an appointment: 410-465-4744.

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