The kindred spirits of the Ozaukee Chorus bond over their appreciation of choral music while staging entertaining concerts and raising money for music scholarships
Frank Gedelman of Grafton has figured out one of secrets to membership in the Ozaukee Chorus.
“It’s a bring-your-friends kind of thing. There are no auditions. You show up at that first rehearsal and if you like it, you stay for 25 years,” he said with a laugh.
While a common love for singing is what binds the group together, relationships often go well beyond that.
“We’ve got a lot of lifelong friendships that have developed over the years. It’s a real close-knit group,” Gedelman, who sings bass and serves as the chorus board president, said.
Besides friendships, Gedelman, a retired accountant, said he even picked up some business. He does taxes for a fellow member who owns a small business.
Ages of the chorus’ 70 members range from 20s to 90.
The weekly practices last up to two hours, “so it’s not like it’s a massive time commitment,” Gedelman said, “although our director is constantly imploring us to work on stuff from home.”
That stuff can run the gamut. Last spring, the chorus put on a 1960s-themed concert, complete with attire to match.
“It was pretty popular. We actually had standing room only for that concert,” Gedelman said.
Mixing up the music is important in keeping the chorus engaged, said Tina Davis, the group’s accompanist the past 14 years who has doubled as director the past four. She is the chorus’ only paid member.
“I just sit and listen to tons of recorded music,” Davis said. “They seem to really like the type of music I’m picking for them. I love it so much because they respond to it.”
Davis said she balances the difficulty of the pieces with their enjoyment.
“I try to challenge them but still have a lot of fun,” she said. “We don’t want to be an intense choir. We want to be a community choir that has fun.
“My main goal is they have as much fun singing as I do directing.”
This spring’s concert provides a mix of traditional patriotic music such as “Taps” — Gedelman said he didn’t know the piece had lyrics — along with American folk songs like “She’ll be Coming ’Round the Mountain,” “My Old Country Home,” “Old Dan Tucker” and “I got a Hog and a Pig.”
“Everybody looks forward to rehearsals,” Gedelman said, “because Tina is so much fun to sing for.”
The chorus performs two concerts per year, one at Christmas time and one in spring. It takes summers off.
But some members still sing during the warmer months. One of the chorus’ former directors, Randy Hilgers, was musical director for Port Washington summer theater and encouraged chorus members to audition for “Oklahoma!”
About 15 chorus members got parts. That was 2006.
“We’ve been in summer theater shows ever since,” Gedelman said.
Gedelman’s quarter century of membership isn’t even the longest. Chorus founder Helen Waldschmidt still sings soprano, one of a handful of original members.
Waldschmidt started the chorus in 1975, months after moving to Grafton from Milwaukee. She sang in high school and college but got away from it while teaching school and raising a young family.
Research revealed the county lacked a community choir. Waldschmidt changed that after contacting then Grafton High School choir director Lou Cisto, who agreed to direct a community choir as long as he didn’t have to do any of the organizational work.
Waldschmidt agreed and placed ads in Ozaukee County newspapers seeking members and called everyone who filled out an application.
“That was in 1975. We didn’t have emails,” she said.
The first rehearsal drew 115 members, which dwindled to about 90.
A board of directors was formed, and a charter was written. The chorus later became an official nonprofit organization.
Initially called the Grafton Community Chorale, the chorus changed its name to Ozaukee Community Chorale in 1979 and to its current name in 1981.
The setup of the six-member board has helped keep volunteers coming back, he said.
“Each one of us has a specific function so none of us are particularly overwhelmed,” Gedelman said.
“The people on the board are very loyal and devoted to their jobs,” Waldschmidt said, “and they do a wonderful job.”
In 1991, the chorus began giving one scholarship to one student in each of the five Ozaukee County high schools, partially supported by ads in concert programs. The chorus has given out nearly $50,000 so far.
“We’re pretty proud that we give away $5,000 every spring,” Gedelman said.
Scholarship winners sing with the choir at the spring concert.
“These kids are terrific. They are so good. It is so much fun to sing with them,” Gedelman said.
They may even someday return to the chorus in a more official capacity.
“Anybody and everybody is welcome,” Gedelman said. “I tell you what, once you get in, it’s hard to get out.”
Ozaukee Chorus director and accompanist Tina Davis, left, rehearsed with the chorus and this year’s five scholarship-winning high school students at St. Joseph’s Catholic Parish in Grafton for the chorus’ May 4 concert in the Grafton High School Auditorium. Members of the 42-year-old chorus range in age from the 20s to 90. Photo by Sam Arendt