Monday, December 18, 2017
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20171116 Men of A chord MOERINGMen of A Chord

Bob Lemkuil directs a number during a rehearsal last week of the Magic Valley Men of A-Chord men's chorus at St. Mark United Methodist Church in McAllen. The chorus is made of 40 plus barbershop singers.

The hills are alive with the sounds of music, or in the case of the Rio Grande Valley, it is the South Texas plains that are more alive now with music than at any time of the year as a season of concerts begins.

The musical organizations, ranging from barbershop choruses to symphony orchestras, are populated with lots of Winter Texans along with most of those attending the performances.

Among those preparing for a season of music now is the Magic Valley Chorus (MVC) of the Sweet Adelines International, directed by Sandy Seitz, a full-time Victoria Palms Park resident in Donna, who came to the Valley in 1999 after being part of a chorus for many years in Racine, Wisc. Seitz, who is also an accomplished accordionist since learning at age 9, adds to the educational process by throwing in a little bit of technical music theory during rehearsals.

For the full-time Valley residents and the now-arriving Winter Texans, who make up about half of the chorus, a rigorous schedule of activities mark rehearsals being held Monday evenings at the Village of Westlakes clubhouse in McAllen. The three-hour rehearsals start with physical and vocal warmups, then into standing through sets of songs to be learned for the upcoming shows.

Helping to keep everything organized is Janet Doyle, the team leader for the past 10 years and often the emcee for performances. For the past 20 years she has been with the chorus, which was formed in November 1990; in 1991 it did its first annual show and went to its first regional competition. Most members come from communities from Mission to Weslaco, according to Secretary Joan Felton, a permanent resident at Royal Palms Park in Alamo. Having the Winter Texans is special. “We love them and welcome them,” she added.

The local award-winning chorus had its first concert of this season, a Veterans Day salute on Nov. 10 at a Mission resort park. Shirley Valentine, who handles bookings, said other public concerts include Christmas at the Tower (Theater) in Weslaco, 3 p.m. Dec. 1-3; the chorus’ annual appearance at the Hidalgo Festival of Lights at 8 p.m. Dec. 5; St. George Church International Festival in Pharr at 11 a.m. Dec. 9; the Westlakes Community Christmas event in McAllen at 6 p.m. Dec. 16, and the combined “Music for All Ages” concert show at the Center Church in Pharr at 7 p.m. March 2, 2018.

Dee Fritsch, a Winter Texan hailing from Buffalo, N.Y., and staying at Bentsen Grove Park in Palmview, has been singing bass for 20 years with MVC, which comes on top of 36 years with a Buffalo chorus. She noted her husband, Jack, is a barbershop singer in two choruses as well.

Fritsch enjoys being in the chorus, including the educational part as she doesn’t read music, but has been helped to find ways around that, including using technology to work on songs. The fellowship is special to the couple including the international flavor that created a long-lasting friendship with a Swedish couple they met during a competition. “You can travel anywhere and find help and support through the Sweet Adelines,” Fritsch said. “It’s one huge family.”

She is also the reason that Judy McCullough, a Winter Texan in Alamo’s Royal Palms Park who this summer moved to Warsaw, Mo., is part of the chorus. McCullough was looking for a barbershop opportunity and found it in 2004, when she met Fritsch across the border in Mexico, a year after coming to the Valley. McCullough said she was raised with music, her parents and brother singing and playing instruments after chores were over for the day on the family dairy farm in Kansas. The only singing part left for her was to harmonize. Later she sang five years in Topeka, Kan. with a group called the New Life Singers.

In addition to McCullough singing bass in the MVC, McCullough plays a variety of instruments including the trumpet, piano, organ, accordion, bass and steel guitars. For the past two years she’s played the trumpet with the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) Concert Band as third chair and with the smaller Winter Texan Orchestra.

RGV Concert Band

When the combined concert comes next March, McCullough will have two parts, singing with the MVC and playing trumpet with the RGV Concert Band. Gene Goede, who was a band director for 33 years, has been conducting the RGV Band for the past 10 years. The band, which began with just a dozen players back in 1997, is made up primarily of Winter Texans from 17 states along with a few from Canada. The band now numbers between 55 and 65 musicians, which still includes a few charter members.

Goede was a band director in Minnesota public schools before coming to the Valley 26 years ago. The Minneapolis area resident, who has toured the world with his music, joined the band in December 1998, 10 months after it was formed. In addition to his conducting, Goede has also been a member of the McAllen Symphonic Band/Wind Ensemble for the past 12 years.

He noted 10 performers are still in the workforce, but the rest include retirees from all walks of life – some former band directors, and others who love to play an instrument in creating old time “concert in the park” type music. One of those who hadn’t played her baritone sax since high school, is Linda Ingram, a registered nurse from Smithville, Tenn. and staying at Lemon Tree Estates in Mission. She joined in 2007 and is the band’s secretary.

In preparing for the RGV Band’s series of winter concerts, rehearsals are held at Our Savior Lutheran Church, 1105 West Fern Ave. in McAllen, on Saturday mornings. The schedule involves seven or eight Sunday concerts a season. The band starts with a Christmas concert each year at the Lutheran church rehearsal site, which will be 3 p.m. Dec. 10. The rest of the all Sunday concerts, all at 3 p.m., include Aladdin Villas West in Mission on Jan. 1, 2018; First Presbyterian Church, Mission, Jan. 21; Alamo Palms Park in Alamo, Feb. 4; Snow to Sun Park in Weslaco, Feb. 18; Casa Del Valle Park in Alamo, March 4 and Paradise Resort Estates in Pharr, March 11. And on March 2 is the 7 p.m. combined concert at Center Church in Pharr.

Magic Valley Men of A-Chord

Another group taking part in the combined “Music for All Ages” show is the Magic Valley Men of A-Chord, a group of 40 to sometimes 60 barbershoppers, co-directed by Bob Lemkuil, from Neenah, Wisc., and Herb Edwards, from McComb, Ill..

Lemkuil, who stays at Aladdin Villas in Mission, has been with the chorus for 20 years and has been directing for six seasons, while Edwards, at Americana Resort in Mission, is in his third year of directing. Edwards, who retired in 2008, said the men are drawn together by the fact, “All of us love music and we get to entertain an audience once a week.”

Dennis Bush, president of the Men of A-Chord and a permanent McAllen resident, has been with the chorus for 20 years, although he has been singing barbershop for 40 years. His singing included a part in an award-winning quartet, “Vocal Majority,” while living in Dallas, and another group in Beaumont. “We need men who like to sing,” Bush said.

The local group started in 1992, with only eight guys and have become known for their red vests and bow ties. Many of the singers hold membership in the international Barbershop Harmony Society of some 35,000 members in the U.S. They also have formed various quartets to sing four-part harmony to entertain and compete. They rehearse Tuesday afternoons at St. Mark United Methodist Church in McAllen.

The Men of A-Chord do about 10 concerts a year at parks in the Valley and before other organizations starting in January 2018 through mid-March. The schedule begins at Heritage Square in Mission at 7 p.m. Jan. 27. The others are Alamo Rec-Veh Park in Alamo at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 28; San Juan Gardens, San Juan at 7 p.m. Jan. 31; McAllen First Assembly Church in McAllen at 7 p.m. Feb. 8; Casa Del Valle Resort in Alamo at 7 p.m. Feb. 12; Country Side Park in Donna at 7 p.m. Feb. 14; Paradise Park Estate Resort in Pharr at 3 p.m. Feb. 18; The Grove in San Juan at 7 p.m. Feb. 27; Center Church in Pharr at 7 p.m. March 2; Benson Grove Resort in Mission at 7 p.m. March 4, and Siesta Retirement Village in Weslaco at 7 p.m. March 11.

Senior Ambassadors

The final group for the combined “Music for All Ages” concert on March 2 will be the Senior Ambassadors Men’s Chorus directed by Virgel Kroeker, a former Winter Texan but now a permanent resident in Mission’s Aladdin Villas since 2012. The former elementary music and high school choir director for 29 years in Minnesota, has been leading the Ambassadors for the past 10 seasons.

The Ambassadors were launched more than 30 years ago by 12 men from Bentsen Grove Resort in Mission who just wanted to sing. The chorus now numbers around 45, the majority Winter Texans, who have begun rehearsals on Friday afternoons at Bentsen Grove.

They will be offering a broad range of musical numbers, ranging from gospel to patriotic to golden oldies to Broadway, in a dozen concerts starting in January. The schedule is 2 p.m. Jan. 14 at Oleander Acres Park in Mission; 7 p.m. Jan. 20 at Seven Oaks Resort in Mission; 7 p.m. Jan. 23 at Texas Trails Resort in Pharr; 7 p.m. Feb. 5 at Palm Shadows in Donna; 7 p.m. Feb. 11 at Trophy Gardens in Alamo; 7 p.m. Feb. 22 at Val Halla Park in Edinburg; 7 p.m. Feb. 25 at Split Rail Park in Mission; 7 p.m. March 2 the combined show at Center Church in Pharr; 7 p.m. March 7 at Golf View Estates in Mission, and 6 p.m. March 11 at Alamo Palms in Alamo.

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