2017-03-09 / Front Page

New chorus to debut March 18 at concert sing-along

B.J. Whitehouse leads all-inclusive group

Phillip Reilly, left, and B.J. Whitehouse, strum acoustic guitars during a rehearsal last week at the Pemberton Apartments. 
PHOTO BYRYAN GIBBS Phillip Reilly, left, and B.J. Whitehouse, strum acoustic guitars during a rehearsal last week at the Pemberton Apartments. PHOTO BYRYAN GIBBS Not every singer feels comfortable belting out the challenging tunes showcased by the Jamestown Community Chorus. For those singers, however, an opportunity was presented to them in 2017.

That effort culminates next week, Saturday, March 18, at the recreation center.

The so-called Everybody Chorus is led by B.J. Whitehouse, who also has directed the regular chorus for nearly 30 years. The concept for the fledgling choir came from members of the original group, which dates to 1949.

“They wanted to create an opportunity for people who don’t want to take on really challenging choral music,” Whitehouse said. “We wanted to have as many people singing as possible.”

The Everybody Chorus was introduced in August during the town’s annual talent show. Five months later, rehearsals began. The requirements were straightforward — show up and sing, regardless of past experience.

“I want to encourage everyone to sing,” Whitehouse said. “The chorus is affording an opportunity for everybody who has been told that they can’t sing or shouldn’t sing. We’ve created an opportunity where that’s no longer true. You can sing; you should sing and you’re able to sing with us.”

Members have been preparing since January for their debut concert, which begins at 7:30 p.m. Each Saturday morning at Pemberton Apartments, they have rehearsed a playlist that is highlighted by folk ballads and pop songs from around the globe.

“I chose songs that were relatively familiar and people seemed to enjoy singing over the years,” he said. “They are eminently singable once you learn them. I wanted music that would apply to older people and younger people. There’s something in this program for everybody.”

The playlist ranges from “Oh My Darling, Clementine,” a late 19th century Western ballad, to “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” an African-American spiritual. Whitehouse encourages the audience to sing along to the songs they know.

“In my community chorus concerts, we’ve always had a sing-along,” he said. “In this concert, the entire concert is going to be a sing-along. Anyone who wants to sing along, they’re more than welcome to do so. I’m looking forward to providing an opportunity for people to realize it’s OK to sing.”

The rehearsals have been informal compared to original chorus’ practices. Members can ask for a song to be restarted, and Whitehouse is forgiving of any mistakes made. The retention rate has been high as only a handful of member have quit.

Alongside Whitehouse, 11 members of the chorus will perform Saturday. The singers are not assigned specific vocal ranges and aren’t expected to read music. Some members have brought instruments to accompany themselves during rehearsals. Whitehouse and Philip Reilly play acoustic guitars, while Fran Gorman and Kathy Brownell strum ukuleles. Whitehouse has been encouraging members to bring their instruments.

“If someone wanted to bring in a bassoon or bagpipes, we’d make it work,” he said.

Reilly has been particularly enthusiastic about performing with the group. He often is the first to suggest the next song to rehearse.

“It’s been a blast,” he said.

Jeffrey Gravdahl, a member of the community chorus, said he joined the Everybody Chorus to get members of his family involved. He was able to convince his two sisters and his wife, Christina.

“They sing easy music,” he said. “There are no parts. There’s no soprano, alto, tenor or bass. We just sing the melody. B.J. is an easy guy to get along with and he makes it enjoyable.”

Following the inaugural concert, Whitehouse hopes to restart the program in late April. He is working with both the board of the community chorus and the recreation department to determine whether the Everybody Chorus could become a regular program.

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