Desperately seeking singers: Choral group launches reunion

By ANDREA POTEET
Sunday Times Newspapers

Hundreds of voices have been heard with a local singing group in its 35 years.

And for one performance this spring, many of them will be heard again.

The Seaway Chorale is looking for former members to participate in its 35th anniversary concert next Sunday 13 and March 14.

Former members are invited the join the group during the concert to sing the first song it ever performed, “It’s a Wonderful Night for Singing.”

“We’re hoping to have a big overflow on the stage,” publication manager Donald Van Every said. “We wanted to show the general public how many people have been affiliated with the group over the years.”

Van Every said he is hoping for 25 or 30 members, but so far has heard back from only two. He intends to send a letter to former members soon.

The group will perform songs popularized by each of its four past conductors. Highlights will include performances of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” as well as songs from “The Wizard of Oz” and “Les Miserables.”

“It’s a potpourri of good songs from the past and present,” Van Every said.

The group was started in 1976 by David Ward, who acted as music director until his death in 1994. The group has been through five directors since, and now is directed by Gerald Custer.

When it began, it was the only singing group in the area that was not a church choir — and one of the few to perform with a full orchestra. A children’s choir was added in 1978 and a teen chorus in 1983, but in 2003, both youth groups were disbanded due to declining enrollment, as young performers left for competing groups that could offer them more solos, Van Every said.

“It started going down to eight or 10 singers,” Van Every said. “That just isn’t enough for a chorus.”

Former members of the youth groups also are invited to participate in the show, Van Every said.

Marge Conley, who has been singing in the group since it began, said the group stands out from others because it requires its members to audition.

“David (Ward) was always very particular about finding voices that could blend well in a chorale group,” Conley said. “In the beginning, we set our goals high and worked to achieve them.”

Through the years, the group, which comprises more than 50 members from all over Downriver, has performed two concerts a year at Flat Rock High School as well as special performances throughout the area. They have performed at Cobo Hall, Comerica Park and the 1980 Republican National Convention, in Detroit. In 2000, they received the Salute to Excellence award from the Downriver Council for the Arts.

Conley said she is excited to start the group’s 35th year and see some familiar faces.

“I feel a closeness to everyone that I’ve ever sang with,” she said. “They are almost like family. So to have them come back is just a thrill. It’s a true family reunion.”

Former members who wish to participate can contact Van Every at (734) 676-9504.