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By Jane Fusco
In 1971, two choral directors, in two separate adult music education classes, in two different towns in R.I., were united by a student’s suggestion to perform a concert together. The fusion of sound was an instant masterpiece. Forty-five years later, the Cumberland-Lincoln Community Chorus is still performing and is the oldest chorus of its kind in the state.
To celebrate their 45th anniversary, the chorus will be “Dusting off the old 45s” in a spring musical production on May 14 (6 p.m.) and 15 (3 p.m.), in St. Ann’s Cultural Center in Woonsocket, with classics and favorites from the 1940s through the early 1970s. The Providence Swings dancers will join the chorus for several songs.
The founding fathers of the Cumberland-Lincoln Community Chorus, John Azevedo, then director of music at Lincoln High School, and Rev. Loring Chadwick, a music teacher in Cumberland, established the chorus’ objective to provide the community with an appreciation of music. Today, under the direction of Dr. Judith Lynn Stillman, the chorus is still well known for its elaborate spring productions, holiday concerts, and for performing free concerts for the elderly and infirmed.
The choral group is a mixed, all skill level, non-auditioned chorus that includes singers of all ages and musical backgrounds, from Rhode Island and Massachusetts. The repertoire ranges from classical to contemporary.
“We like to mix it up,” said Melissa Sparrow, chorus president.
Stillman, an internationally renowned musician, composer and teacher, often adds eclectic instruments, such as violins and bagpipes, into the musical programs.
For Sparrow, singing in the chorus is a family affair. Her husband, mother-in-law, father-in-law, and sister-in-law are also part of the ensemble.
Sparrow’s husband, Jeremiah, began in the chorus’ apprentice program, open to young people ages 12-18. Graduating high school seniors who have been in the apprentice program for two or more years, are given a $500 scholarship award to help further their educational studies.
“A lot of our apprentices come back and sing with us when they are out of school, or even while they are attending a local college,” Sparrow said.
The apprentices and children of the singers become part of the productions, as actors and prop holders, Sparrow said. “They add so much to a production.”
At times, the apprentices have been known to improvise. Sparrow recalled the Definitely Disney concert when an 18-point star that was to be lowered behind the chorus at the end of When You Wish Upon A Star fell during the previous song. Two apprentices who were also brothers came out on stage swinging their arms vaudeville style to retrieve the star from the stage. Since the star was no longer in the rafters to lower on cue, one of the boys got inside the large star structure while his brother rolled him on stage at the end of the song.
The chorus is comprised of about 50 members, ranging in age from “early 20s to 80-something,” Sparrow said. “No matter what the age of the singer, we all share a passion and love of music.”
Louise Jancef has been with the chorus since 1974 and is its longest serving member.
Jancef said that through the years, “there have been so many wonderful voices” in the chorus. At one point, she said, there were over 100 singers. Membership had to be closed to keep productions manageable.
“As the years went by, word got out about the chorus and community work we were doing, and more and more people wanted to join,” Jancef said.
Jancef’s favorite performances were the old-time radio show where the performers read from scripts then tossed the papers on the floor, and the salute to the armed forces featuring wartime songs. “That was emotional,” she said.
Azevedo died in 2013 and Chadwick moved to Florida several years ago, but the collaboration they started 45 years ago is still making beautiful music.
For more information about the Cumberland-Lincoln Community Chorus.’ 45th anniversary celebration and other performances, visit www.clccmusic.org. Like them on Facebook and follow on Twitter.