By Devese “Dee” Ursery, Reporter
The Heartland Community Chorus will commemorate its 10-year anniversary this year with a season-long celebration.
The chorus kicked off the season with a “Thank You” event at the end of September, where they treated patrons to refreshments and music and will open its 10th season with a festive Christmas concert. There will be two performances, one at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 10 and another at 3 p.m. Dec. 11, both at St. Paul Church, 1411 Main Street in Highland.
The chorus has hired a brass quintet, percussionists and a flutist to join the chorus pianist.
In March, the chorus will conduct a Irish-themed spring fundraiser, called “Kissing the Blarney Stone.” The Irish Aires, an Irish Folk band out of St. Louis will perform at the fundraiser. The band has played together for over 30 years.
The newest bandmate, Steve Stack, 60, of Troy, is also an original member of the Chorus. Stack moved here in 1997, and is the music and liturgy director at St. Jerome Church.
“I grew up in a very musical family,” Stack said. “I’ve sung since I was about three or four-years-old.”
The chorus’ regular spring concert will also be Irish-themed and there will be a Pops concert in May. All of the concerts and events will be made special due to the 10-year anniversary.
The Highland-based chorus held its first auditions in August of 2013 and the next month the Heartland Community Chorus was created. The idea was born in the kitchen of Luanne Murphy, co-founder and director of the chorus.
Murphy, a former music teacher of 34 years, said the idea was spurred by one of her private students.
“I started teaching private lessons and one of my students suggested a community chorus because they were tired of traveling to St. Louis to sing,” Murphy said. “So Kay Ahaus, Sue Ellen Drewer, DJ Jones, and myself sat around my kitchen table and figured out how we were going to get things started.”
Murphy taught music at St. Paul’s Catholic High School in Highland and Rosati-Kain High School in St. Louis.
“I’m a music teacher, so I have a lot of experience already with directing choruses. We had auditions in August 2013, and started that September,” she said.
That year, the 24-member chorus performed its first concert, a Christmas show. Since then the group has grown to 42 strong, 17 of whom are original members. Group singers range in age from their 20s to 80s and come from 10 surrounding communities like Highland, Troy, St. Rose, Glen Carbon and others. Out of the 42 members, seven are from Troy.
Stack and Murphy have known each other since her time at St. Paul’s.
”I’ve been singing with Luanne Murphy since she moved to the area,” Stack said. “She was my high school chorus director in 1979.
Eric Sykes, 36, of Troy, is the newest member of the Chorus and did it as a favor for a friend because of the need for more males in the group.
“I grew up in the church and music has always been a big part of my life,” Sykes said. “My mother was always singing when I was a kid, so she just kind of instilled it in me. Watching people enjoy themselves is what I enjoy. Just seeing a wide age range of people coming together and thoroughly enjoying themselves doing something that they love is a real joy.”
Murphy credits the success of the chorus to three things: a talented, energetic and dedicated group of singers, a well-qualified, experienced, and invested board of directors. And most important, a very supportive and generous community of concert-goers.
“Even during the difficult days of the COVID pandemic, when we couldn’t meet in person or perform live, our fans still supported us both financially and by viewing our recorded music videos,” Murphy said. “I don’t know how we would have survived without them.”
John Hopkins is not only the president of the Heartland Community Chorus Board, but he is also an original member of the chorus. Hopkins has been singing in church choirs for over 32 years. He was also in school plays and started singing in a police choir in Chicago, he said.
“I became president in the beginning of September,” Hopkins said. “Prior to that I was vice-president for two years. It’s a three-year position and I really look forward to fully serving my term, God and health willing.”
According to Hopkins a lot of the board members are very active and hold multiple positions within the chorus, such as advertising specialist, equipment manager. The chorus also has a retention and recruitment committee.
The chorus is always looking for additions and at this time are in need of tenors and basses. Auditions are held at the end of August. The mission of the Heartland Community Chorus is to promote and preserve the tradition of choral music for the cultural enrichment of the metro-east.
Tickets to the Christmas concert and other performances will be available from any chorus member, at the door, or at the chorus’ website, www.heartlandcommunitychorus.org.
If you have any questions contact Luanne Murphy at 618-791-8408.