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Front Royal singers prepare for upcoming concerts

George T. Amos conducts the Front Royal Oratorio Society chorus during a recent rehearsal at Front Royal United Methodist Church. Rich Cooley/Daily

George T. Amos conducts the Front Royal Oratorio Society chorus during a recent rehearsal at Front Royal United Methodist Church. Rich Cooley/Daily

By Josette Keelor

Area choral members are singing the praises of two Front Royal groups that will take the stage this month.

The Front Royal Oratorio Society, which has been a mainstay in Warren County since the 1960s, and the Blue Ridge Singers, which just formed in 2009, both have large followings and members committed to the groups' success.

Maureen Sadler, president of the Front Royal Oratorio Society, has been singing with choirs her whole life.

"The nice thing about the Oratorio Society is they do a variety of different types of music and their focus is on music," she said. "And it's no audition."

That was a big draw for her.

The group sings everything from Handel's "Messiah" to Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Edelweiss." For summer holidays, members also sing patriotic songs, she said.

"So we really hit quite a variety from sacred to showtunes, everything in between," Sadler said. "We've even done spirituals, which I absolutely swore I would never get the words out of my mouth."

Pat Spory, of Warren County, was a member of the Oratorio Society for a while. She's also sung with Winchester Musica Viva and the Rappahannock Choral Society.

She was looking for something different when she and her daughter Beth Whitney started the Blue Ridge Singers.

When they approached their neighbors and longtime friends Richard and Cathy Kurzenknabe with their idea, the chorale was born.

"We began a little fledgling group in the fall of 2009 and we sang at the Festival of Leaves," she said.

The rest happened by word of mouth, Spory said. The following fall, they presented a concert at Front Royal Presbyterian Church.

When their first choir director left, Jeffrey Alban agreed to take the reigns, she said.

"And it just so happened that he was thinking of beginning [with the group]," she said. The group has had about 16 members from the start, but now, she said, "We had a director that was interested in taking us forward. We continue to audition for new talent and have grown."

Alban said the group has prepared "Rejoice in the Lamb," by Benjamin Britten, for its concerts this weekend and also will sing "A Jubilant Song," adapted from Walt Whitman's "A Song of Joys," and "The Waking" by San Francisco composer David Conte.

"We sing everything," Alban said. At its peak, the Blue Ridge Singers had 33 singers, but because of scheduling conflicts, membership has dropped to 24.

Whitney, a music director and drama teacher for Warren County Public Schools, and the Kurzenknabes have left the choir, Spory said.

Still, Alban said, membership averages 30 throughout the year. He hopes to grow the choir to 40. Spory said the group is also looking for opportunities to sing for private or public events to help with fundraising.

"We would like to use our singing skills to increase our income," she said.

Both choirs offer two holiday concerts and two spring concerts and both are looking for new members. The Blue Ridge Singers perform at area festivals and are planning to perform at First Night Winchester this December. The Oratorio Society usually performs at the Front Royal 4-H Center on July 3.

"And our concerts are free," Sadler said. Their mission is to educate the community on different types of music, she said. "For that reason the concerts are always free." They do, however, accept donations to pay for music and other expenses.

The Oratorio Society averages 40 members, and she said director George Amos "is very aware of what the core group is capable of doing." He bases musical choices on the group's abilities, she said.

"Some people come and go," she said. "Some come in and stay. Every person has a different reason for why they stay."

Nearing 50 years in existence, the group recently has found greater balance with the inclusion of students from Shenandoah University, she said.

"So that really helps balance out our average age," Sadler said laughing. "We were getting a little long in the tooth there for awhile."

Plus, the variety helps them all improve, she said. As the students learn from more experienced members, she said, "we're getting a chance to be revitalized by their energy."

The Blue Ridge Singers will present its concert "Rejoice!" at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church, 26 W. Boscawen St., Winchester; and at 4 p.m. Saturday at Front Royal Presbyterian Church, 115 Luray Ave., Front Royal. For more information, visit www.blueridgesingers.com.

The Front Royal Oratorio Society will perform at 7:30 p.m. April 27 at Braddock Street United Methodist Church, 115 Wolfe St., Winchester at 7:30 p.m. April 28 Front Royal Presbyterian Church, 115 Luray Ave., Front Royal. For more information, visit frontroyaloratoriosociety.org.

Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com


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