Make a Joyful Noise

Meet the leading ladies who make local hearts sing. Gathered around the piano at The Grand Sandestin (left to right) are Lisa Stanhope, Marilyn Overturf and Adele Armitage. Photo by Scott Holstein
Make a Joyful NoiseGiving Community Choirs Lift Hearts and Lives
By Jennifer Howard

What do an airplane pilot, dental hygienist, pharmacist, priest, nurse and retired military officer have in common? They are also volunteer sopranos, altos, tenors and basses in local community choirs, harmonizing to create the soundtrack for area events, celebrations and holidays. Chorus members in their late teens sing alongside grandparents in their 70s and 80s, coming together to share music to commemorate solemn occasions and rejoice in good times.

The Fort Walton Beach Community Chorus, The Ecumenical Choir of Walton County and The Okaloosa Chamber Singers draw from every corner of our community to bring choral music to the public. But the community choirs are not singing off the same page as the chorus on the popular television program, “Glee.” Instead of high-school drama, local choir members focus on giving back to the community, through music and beyond.

The Fort Walton Beach Community Chorus

As many as 45 choristers from Gulf Breeze to Santa Rosa Beach come together each Tuesday evening to sing under the direction of Lisa Stanhope in the Fort Walton Beach Community Chorus. The December holiday season sets the perfect tone for community choir performances, and the non-profit chorus has performed a Christmas concert series for 35 years. Stanhope, who has been a part of the chorus for 15 years, is as enthusiastic about the chorus’ camaraderie as its repertoire and proud that the group enjoys doing other activities together.

The Community Chorus’ objective is to promote and stimulate knowledge of music throughout the community, according to its website. The musical group collects a donation at its events, part of which defrays the costs of presenting its performances and part is dedicated to two music scholarships it awards annually. 

What does it take to sing as part of the Community Chorus? “We hold auditions,” Stanhope said. “We need to hear their range, find out about their background. Then you have to like to sing. I know if I wasn’t singing, I wouldn’t be happy. Even if you come in tired from work, once you start to sing, it lifts your spirit and fills you with happiness.”

The perfect “middle C” note for the Community Chorus is “commitment.” “You can’t be down for that second show,” the director said. “You always have to do your best.” 

The Okaloosa Chamber Singers

A strong interest in performing classical music drew together the 20 to 24 members of The Okaloosa Chamber Singers (OCS).  Artistic Director Marilyn Overturf, who holds a Ph.D. in choral music from Florida State University, said, “Our culture is so inundated with pop music that (choir members) have a yearning to find a place for themselves. So they share a love of music and the classics. You can sink your teeth and soul into that kind of music.”

Since its inception in 1994, the group’s programs have featured music of the Renaissance through contemporary periods, both accompanied and a cappella. Bach, Mozart, Brahms, Dvorak and Kopylow are among composers the ensemble has featured. OCS has performed in towns throughout the two-county region, and its concerts have been recorded and featured on WUWF, the local public broadcasting radio station.

An audition is required to join the choir. “You have to be able to read music pretty well and have some background in classical music in order to deal with the languages of the pieces we sing,” the erudite former secondary school music education teacher said. “A number of our members have been voice majors in school, particularly in our soprano section. But it’s not necessary. If someone is seeking a group that does a classical repertoire, we’d love to have them.”

OCS is a robust supporter of musical talent, bringing to their stage both renowned musicians from outside the community and showcasing local talent, particularly young musicians. The $15 per person or $25 per couple donation OCS requests as admission to its concerts goes to defray the cost of bringing in these guest musicians, as well as paying for the choir’s regular expenses, such as purchasing music and their usual accompanist.

The choir begins rehearsing in mid-August for its holiday concerts, then heads back to the rehearsal hall in January to prepare for the March concerts.

The Ecumenical Choir of Walton County

Formed in 1996, The Ecumenical Choir of Walton County performs thematic concerts and uses the donated proceeds to benefit community outreach organizations. Caring and Sharing, Path of Grace women’s recovery center, the Children’s Advocacy Center and the Lighthouse Family Retreat are among the groups who have benefited from the choir’s performances. “We just love to sing,” said Director Adele Armitage. “We decided early on that any proceeds would go back into the community. All members purchase their own music and devote their time and talent so that all monies can help those in need. We’ve given in excess of $20,000 back to the community.”

The choir members practice once a week. “I expect 150 percent out of them, because I give 150 percent,” said the dedicated director, who typically accompanies the choir on keyboards. “They are all very dedicated and believe in the choir.”

The choir grew out of a desire to have a church-based choral group with members from a variety of area churches perform ecumenical concerts throughout the community. “We entertain, but generally there is a message with the entertainment,” Armitage said. “There’s always a theme that we try to weave into the music so that you come away with something more.”

Not all of the 35 or so Ecumenical Choir members can read music, although the director said it is helpful. One soprano adds a wonderful grace note to concerts by “singing” along in sign language for the hearing impaired attendees. A few trained musicians are part of the group, but singers come from a variety of careers. Anyone interested in joining should get in touch with Armitage for an interview and audition, although space is limited.

A sponsor or two who could help handle expenses would be a pitch-perfect addition to the Ecumenical Choir, Armitage said. “We all need to work together to make our community better,” she said. “Forget your troubles and let the music wash over you. As they say, music is the healer. It’s a universal language.”



Community Choir Concert Calendar

Ecumenical Choir of South Walton
Sunday, Dec.11, 3 p.m. & 8 p.m.
Monday, Dec. 12, 7 p.m.
Christ the King Episcopal Church
480 N. County Road 393,
Santa Rosa Beach
(850) 267-3332

Okaloosa Chamber Singers
Friday, Dec. 2, 7:30 p.m.
First United Methodist Church
103 SE First St., Fort Walton Beach

Sunday, Dec. 4, 4 p.m.
First United Methodist Church
88 Circle Dr., DeFuniak Springs
(850) 682-9651

Fort Walton Beach Community Chorus
Friday, Dec. 9, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 10, 3 p.m. & 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, Dec. 11, 3 p.m.
Fort Walton Beach
Municipal Auditorium
107 Miracle Strip Pkwy.
(850) 650-5715