This group sings for other people's supper
Woodbury Chorus and Orchestra donates their admission receipts to area food banks
When the Woodbury Chorus and Orchestra performs, the beneficiaries are folks who visit area food shelves. During the past year, 100% of freewill offerings collected by the music group have gone to such community pantries. The group formerly kept 10% of the offerings, but now relies on other gifts for costs such as music and other operating expenses.
This unusual organization traces its roots to King of Kings Lutheran Church in Woodbury, Minnesota. After a presentation of Handel’s Messiah during the 1984 Christmas season, some of the musicians had a vision. Their dream was that area church choirs join together to perform the Messiah during the 1985 Christmas season with a freewill offering going to benefit the Christian Cupboard food shelf in Woodbury. Earlier this year the group celebrated the milestone of raising over $100,000 for food shelves since its founding.
The 1984 vision was in keeping with the tradition of the first Messiah performance. Directed by composer George Frederic Handel in Dublin, Ireland, proceeds of the freewill offerings were donated to charity.
Today this volunteer group performs 15-16 concerts each season, with the proceeds going to a food shelf in the area. While the primary focus of charitable gifts is food shelves, the group has also helped raise funds for flood relief, hospices and the proposed Woodbury Fine Arts Center.
About half the members of the group are Lutherans; but the singers include those from other faiths, including a Roman Catholic priest. Each member is a volunteer, including the director and soloists. An outgrowth of a concert in outstate Minnesota is a “satellite” musical group in Olivia, Minnesota, which, in tribute to the original group, calls itself the “Wood-bury Singers.”
In 1987, Gerrit Willem Lamain became director of the ensemble. Under his direction, the organization has grown to its present stature. Vocalists and instrumentalists drive from many parts of the Twin Cities and western Wisconsin to practice weekly — from 9:00 a.m. to noon each Saturday. Current home to the rehearsals is St. Stephen Lutheran Church in West St. Paul, where Lamain is organist and minister of music.
Lamain, whose father was a Dutch Reformed pastor, began playing the organ at the age of five and played his first church service at the age of eight. In addition to directing the Wood-bury group and his duties at St. Stephen Church, Lamain is a church organ consultant for Schmitt Music Company as well as the Johannus Organ Com-pany of the Netherlands. He also composes and arranges music, and for many summers has performed as a guest organist in Luxembourg.
Lamain says the Woodbury group’s concerts are generally planned to be entertaining and uplifting. They include classical compositions, hymns, Gospel and spiritual numbers, from sacred to secular music of today. This year’s programs, however, included a Holocaust cantata, which was particularly meaningful to Lamain, who was born in Holland and spent his early years there, during World War II. “For God and Country” was another program that resonated well with audiences this year and was put together before the events of September 11, 2002.
Tom Foster, president of the organization, said, “I just finished our concert season statistics, and they show that this year we collected $16,682.27 for food shelves. In the past 11 concert seasons we collected $106,394.41. A few years ago, we learned that $1 will buy about five meals when it goes through the food shelves and their buying programs.” So, the impact over the years has been to provide thousands of meals.
Foster also noted, “Last year, the chorus and orchestra voted to give 100% of each collection to the food shelf for which the concert is given. We had been keeping 10% to help cover our expenses. So far it has worked. The extra money given to the food shelves this concert season would provide some 8,341 meals.”
Currently, the chorus in-cludes about 50 voices, with 15-18 in the orchestra. While most of the musicians are between 40 and 70 years of age, the doors are open to interested persons of all ages. New members are always welcome. Lamain says about 50% of the group members have participated more than six years and a few from the original 1985 chorus are still active. Auditions are not re-quired for vocalists; however, instrumentalists need the director’s approval.
In late July the group will leave on a European tour, with concerts slated in Switzerland. The tours are held every other year, with members financing their own expenses.
The Woodbury Chorus and Orchestra was incorporated in 1991 and received official non-profit status in 1992. The group welcomes inquiries from churches and other organizations interested in hosting a performance. Director Gerrit La-main can be reached at 952-890-6608 or by e-mail at windmill email@example.com. President Tom Foster is at 763-784-7793; his e-mail address is thfos firstname.lastname@example.org. The group’s web site is www.w-c-o.org.