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Community Builders: Huntsville Community Choir

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Photos by Libby Rogers

It’s 9:30 am, and Huntsville Community Choir is gathered together at their usual Tuesday morning practice. The group meets at University Heights Baptist Church, and the choir is comprised of multiple denominations, all with a common love for God and singing. Postcards is sitting in on their rehearsal this morning and, before they begin practice, we visit with Cynthia Cross, the choir’s current director. Today’s experience is close to home for photographer Libby Rogers, as Mrs. Cross was her fourth grade teacher and Libby’s father is pastor of University Heights. Cross introduces us to the choir and tells them we will be flies on the wall while they practice, not to mind us, and that there will be discussion and questions afterward for the article. I was disappointed that I did not get quite as special an introduction as Libby did. Cynthia says, “This is Andrea, she’ll be doing the write up on us,” then turns the choir’s attention toward Libby and says, holding her hands to her chest, “And this is my precious Libby Lou,” face beaming with joy and adoration.

The group starts practice, beginning with a warm-up. Cross then leads them in singing Betty Botter Baked a Batch of Bitter Batter a few times over to the tune of the piano, going up a key each time until it became too high for some and they broke into giggling at their efforts. After the brief warm-up, they bow their heads in prayer like they do at the beginning and ending of every meeting. Cross prays for the community and all those affected by Harvey. She prays for safety for those affected by the fires happening up north and the incoming hurricane Irma.

Once the prayer is over, Cross instructs everyone to turn to page 48 where they will start with Everybody Will Be Happy Over There from their songbook. Thirty minutes pass, and the choir continues to sing through their song set, rehearsing for their upcoming performance on Sunday night, September 17. Their rendition of Strong in the Lord was my favorite, a pretty and slow ballad with a heavenly sound. They sang a beautiful version of both Joy to the World and Silent Night that brought flashes of Christmas to the mind and an excitement for the holiday season. They discussed the history of Silent Night and its German origins. Between songs, the choir falls into small discussion and enjoys each other’s company along the way. One thing is apparent—these people undoubtedly have an appreciation for music, its meaning, and the history behind it. It is time to end, and Cross instructs everyone to stand. The group finishes, singing Sing Your Way Home in unison to wrap up the practice. Cross then leads them in an ending prayer, they say amen, hug, share goodbyes, and begin to trickle out slowly.

It is time to visit with a few choir members who are willing to stay a minute and share their experience and perspective. First, I speak with Edith Shirley, the choir librarian and a soft-spoken woman I sat next to throughout the practice. She has been an active member of Huntsville Community Choir since 1990. She and her husband have lived in Huntsville for 48 years.

Next, we visit with Tanna Sullivan, a sweet 91-year-old woman and the only original member of the choir group that formed in 1994. Huntsville Community Choir was formed through the union of two smaller groups, the choirs of First Baptist and University Heights. In 1994, when Tanna was a member at UHBC, the two decided to join forces and merge to become one large choir. “The first time we made a trip was in ’96; we went to Springfield, Missouri, and we sang at a Baptist church on the way, and stopped in Branson on the way back,” Tanna adds. Since then, the choir has continued to take multiple trips a year to perform upon request and travel to those who love to hear them sing.

Jenny and Jim Caldwell, a married couple in the choir, have been active members for 7 and 8 years each. Vida Teel, another member, carpools with the couple all the way from Evergreen. Multiple dedicated members commute from towns as far as Coldspring, Point Blank, Evergreen, Willis, and Onalaska.

Ron Johnson, both the President of HCC and a member of the men’s choir, shares some of the choir’s activities both in and outside of the community. When it comes to community involvement, the Huntsville Community Choir has invisible tracks tracing all across the town from where they have performed and served. The choir makes frequent trips to nursing homes and living centers to perform, singing for those who enjoy the soothing and joyful benefits of music. The choir attends the Tryon Evergreen Association, a quarterly event that rotates churches to hold their meetings, and last fall was held at UHBC. Currently, Huntsville Community Choir enjoys traveling to nursing homes and singing upon invitation, whenever and wherever they are welcomed. The choir attends the TEBA Spring Senior Adult Music Rally twice a year, an event where choirs from all over perform.

The choir’s historian, member Becky Hernandez, shares a glimpse into the choir’s scrapbook she is responsible for compiling with pictures of events the group attends. She excitedly point to photos and flips through pages, passionately explaining some of the places they have seen and memories made. The scrapbook includes photos from the adventures of Huntsville Community Choir, including photos of service trips to Carriage Inn, Creekside Senior Center, Green Acres, Walker County Senior Center, and the Rotary Club.

Finally, it is time to say goodbye to the last remaining few and part ways. Our visit with Huntsville Community Choir was uplifting and a wonderful start to a Tuesday morning. We got to hear an array of many different songs, from hymns to Christmas carols, and enjoyed the company of a joyful bunch of people. It was an honor spending time with these people who have experienced much of Huntsville’s history, and who have made this town a better place with their servant hearts.

I look forward to coming to watch the Huntsville Community Choir during the holidays when its time for the best kind of music—Christmas music! If their full Christmas set is anything as beautiful as their performance of Silent Night, it is sure to lift your spirits and trigger the peaceful nostalgia of Christmas time. The choir will be at Huntsville Public Library December 12 at 10:00 am, and would be happy to come perform Christmas carols upon request. The choir continues to meet every Tuesday morning from 9:30-11:00 am. For inquiries about joining Huntsville Community Choir or upcoming events, contact Director Cynthia Cross at cynthiakwhr@aol.com or 936-295-2947.

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