ILWACO - The students sit, lungs ready, eyes fixed on the instructor, awaiting her next call. "Breathe in and force your belly out!" The students respond with a series of unusual noises, "Buzz, like a bee," deep breath, "Hiss, like a snake," deep breath. Who knew that just warming up for choir practice could be so interesting?
Such is the practice of the new community choir, recently formed at the River City School of Arts and Crafts in Ilwaco.
The operators of the school wanted to create a group that could sing for any event that may come up in the area, but will start out with a holiday concert at Hilltop school in early December.
The group, however, is still in the process of being formed and has welcomed new members to each of it's first few practices. As such, at the beginning of each practice, the attendant's introduce themselves and tells of their singing experience. At a recent practice the levels of experience were far reaching. A little girl, one of two in attendance, remarks that she has sang with her church choir.
"So you're an old pro!" jokes Liz Nelson, the choir's leader.
One woman, sitting amongst the altos, tells the group through thick accent, that she has sang all her life, but only in French. And a young man, Lee Burchfield, who sat with slicked back, black hair and sideburns, told of his experience singing in bars, lounges and casinos for a living.
They start out their practice this night with one of the numbers from their repertoire of holiday tunes, "Whisper, Whisper."
"You're sounding great, just give me more!" says Nelson. She rocks herself, bobbing forward and back with the rhythm. Standing on tip-toes when high notes are called for and crouching with bended knees when the low parts come. "This goes substantially faster, just to let you know," says Nelson, "But very good for the first time through!"
As the group finishes the portion of the song it has been working on for the first half of the session, the sound of sparse applause echoes through the half empty room, coming from the two people in audience this particular evening.
The group is broken into four vocal groups, soprano, alto, tenor and bass. At different portions of the songs, Nelson works with individual groups while the others wait. Attendants stare in awe as the three soprano singers send their notes floating, only to be held in the building by the ceiling twenty feet above. The tenor and bass section, made up of only two men and a woman find they are the thinnest section of the group. "I promise there will be more people singing melody there," laughs Nelson, "Even if I have to go get them off the street!"
In a way, Nelson herself was pulled in off the street to join the group. Nelson, who had taught music for the Astoria school district and now is trying to start a music conservatory, was walking around Ilwaco distributing fliers for her business venture when she found the River City School. After telling her of their desire to start a new choir, they have had other groups in the past but have been without one for the past ten years, and hearing of her experience they offered the chance to lead the group. "I hope it keeps going because its fun," says Nelson.
They close this particular night with a number called "Cold and Fugue season," a funny take on the famous Bach tune, "Fugue in G minor," about seasonal illnesses. They practice only the first few lines which leads to impatience by some of the singers, "You're dying to get to that chorus aren't you?" asks Nelson, slyly, "So let's get to it!"
The new community choir, which is still considering a name for itself, meets every Monday night at 6 p.m. at the River City School in Ilwaco. Anyone who is interested in joining is encouraged to either call the school, 642-8707, or attend a practice.
As the session breaks on this night, the bass - singing Birchfield jokes, "Does this count as community service?" A member of the good-natured group jokes back, "Are you trying to get a Boy Scout medal?"