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Choralaires to celebrate 60 years with alumni Songtime! concert

Friday, June 6, 2014
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The Scotia-Glenville Choralaires rehearse in the high school auditorium Wednesday.
The Scotia-Glenville Choralaires rehearse in the high school auditorium Wednesday.

If you go

Songtime! A celebration of music through the decades:

When: Today at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Scotia-Glenville High School auditorium

Tickets: $3 for adults, $2 for students at the door

— Faced with 125 energetic singers spanning three generations and empty risers, Jessica Crisci invited her high school students to find their places first.

“Let me start with Choralaires, please, on the risers,” the group’s director yelled into the crowded auditorium.

Met with confused looks, she quickly corrected herself.

“CURRENT Choralaires,” she said.

Choralaires from every decade going back to the 1950s packed the Scotia-Glenville High School auditorium’s risers Wednesday to rehearse six songs they will sing during today’s Songtime! concert at 7:30 p.m.

The concert will celebrate the Choralaires’ 60th anniversary by uniting current members and alumni in song. The annual concert will also feature the current Choralaires singing an array of tunes that, like the alumni, span the decades.

“The history of it is fantastic, and just to have everybody come together into one giant almost family, it kind of shows that the Choralaires is more than just a group that comes together and sings every once in a while,” said Paul Riggi, 18, an Scotia-Glenville senior who sings tenor in the group. “It’s like a relationship that kind of builds throughout the year.”

The alumni singers, who were invited back to celebrate the occasion, add about 80 voices to the high school vocal

ensemble of 45 students, and the sound is fuller than ever.

“It’s remarkable to see how music unites people, and there’s just this great pride in being a Choralaire,” Crisci said. “And you really see it in their faces.”

Black music binder in hand, Marianna Gatta, 53, smiled widely before the rehearsal as she tried to describe what it means to be a Choralaire.

“It’s hard to describe, it really is,” the Glenville resident said. “I’m on a high, and I was on a high when I was in high school doing it, and that’s come back.”

As a sophomore at Scotia-Glenville in 1953, Gatta was a member of the first group of Choralaires when the late Carl Steubing started the group. Gatta, a soprano, was joined on the opposite side of the risers by her granddaughter, Sophia Lietzman, 16, a sophomore who sings alto.

“It’s so nice to see everyone back,” Lietzman said. “It sounds really great.”

Once all of the Choralaires were on the risers, Darrell Drew took a seat behind the piano.

“It’s good to be here,” Drew, who directed the group from 1988-97, told the singers. “It’s good to be anywhere.”

Then he accompanied the group’s rehearsal of his arrangement of “Without a Song.”

Tonight, Drew will conduct the toe tapping, lyrically taxing “Rhythm of Life.”

“I love it,” Drew said of the reunion. “This is really, really good, and I’ve had the opportunity to reunite with several of those kids I had for nine years.”

One of those “kids” is the group’s current director, Crisci, who was a Choralaire from 1994-97 — the year Drew retired. As Drew prepared to conduct “Rhythm of Life” Wednesday, Crisci hurried to find a spot on the risers among her students and fellow Choralaire alumni.

“It's been such a gift singing under his direction again,” she said.

Drew knew he wanted to direct the Choralaires long before taking on the task in 1988.

In 1962, he was a sophomore at the Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam, studying to become a music teacher, when Steubing brought the Choralaires to Potsdam and gave a “fantastic concert,” he said.

After seeing the group perform, Drew asked to be placed at Scotia-Glenville for his student teaching the next year. He got his wish, and after teaching one year in the Schenectady City School District until a position opened up, he started teaching at Scotia-Glenville alongside Steubing in 1965.

“If it were not for [Steubing], I wouldn’t be here,” he said.

Before Drew conducts the group tonight, another guest conductor will stand before the Choralaires — Steubing’s daughter, Sandy. She will conduct a song her father wrote for the group, “Brothers.”

“That’s an awesome opportunity to have her here, especially since her dad was the one who wrote it, so we’re doing an original,” said Riggi, the S-G senior.

Before going through the song with students and alumni, Sandy Steubing told them of its origins.

“It’s not a complicated story, but it’s an endearing story,” she said.

In the 1960s, Scotia-Glenville’s first superintendent, William Martin, went to China at a time when the country was “totally closed to foreigners,” and he came across a peasant, she said.

“This Chinese gentleman who may have never seen somebody outside of his culture … he smiled,” she said. “You would think he would be fearful, and maybe he was, but he smiled.”

Martin took a picture of the man and wrote a poem about him, and upon his return, he gave both to Carl Steubing, she said.

“It hung on our wall for a long time, and one day, my father got inspired and wrote the song,” she said.

 
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