The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

April 21, 2014

Choral group marks 10th anniversary

The Clinton Herald

---- — CLINTON — A Clinton choral group will celebrate its 10th anniversary this weekend.

RiverChor will celebrate the anniversary at 2 p.m. Sunday at Zion Lutheran Church. The concert is free, but donations will be accepted. A reception will be held in the church’s gathering place following the concert.

Ten years ago this past February, a group of local singers came together at Zion Lutheran Church to begin rehearsing for a concert. The impetus for this fledging choir forming: The last group on the church’s concert series had canceled its appearance, and Zion’s director of music, Thea Engelson, needed to find a replacement. So she and her husband, Rob, director of Zion’s Senior Choir and choral director at The Franciscan University (now Ashford University), discussed what could be done.

In addition to his duties at The Franciscan University and Zion, Rob Engelson had also directed the annual “Messiah” performances in Clinton since 1997.

“We began operations with 26 invited singers and the goal of putting together a full concert in nine rehearsals,” Rob Engelson said. “We managed to accomplish that goal, and the rest, as they say, is history.”

Since that first concert, RiverChor’s membership has been stable at between 35 and 45 singers who range in age from high school students to retirees and hail from several towns in eastern Iowa and western Illinois. The choir has presented concerts every fall and spring and has performed on numerous occasions with the Clinton Symphony Orchestra.

It has also performed for Fulton’s Dutch Days, and in February 2011, it participated in the world premiere of a piece for symphonic band and chorus entitled “Reagan of Illinois,” written for the centennial of the birth of former president Ronald Reagan. In addition, it continues to be the “core group” for the annual “Messiah” performances.

“Our goal as a choir has always been to present interesting, challenging and appealing music on our concerts,” Rob said. “Overall, I think we’ve been successful at meeting that goal. At times, I’ve stretched the singers’ ears a bit in throwing some unfamiliar works at them, but they have always (for the most part!) been willing to tackle whatever is put in front of them and give it their best shot.”

As with any new music organization, Engelson’s first task was finding music for the choir to perform.

“Fortunately, I had a built-in supply of music at the university, so that’s where the bulk of the music has come from,” Rob said. “Over the years, as our finances improved, we’ve been able to build a pretty good choral library of our own, while still drawing from university resources. In addition, Karl Wolf, choral director at Clinton High School, has always been very generous in loaning us pieces from his library.”

As a nod to its history, RiverChor’s concert will feature 12 of the 16 pieces that were sung on that first concert on April 25, 2004. In addition, the choir will sing four other “favorites” from past concerts that were voted on by the singers at their first rehearsal this past January.

“We have performed some of these ‘first pieces’ on subsequent concerts while others were only done on that first concert,” Engelson said. “It seemed appropriate to pay tribute to that first concert and to those brave souls who volunteered to take a leap of musical faith and be a part of something new.”

The choir has featured continuity in its membership over 10 years: of the original 26 singers, 10 are still with the group; 14 have been members since the choir’s second concert in November 2004; and at least half of the current membership has sung for at least five years. Christine Holmer, director of music at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Clinton, has been the choir’s accompanist since fall 2006.