It's Tuesday night, 7:20 p.m. Behind Terry's Drug Store on Bloomfield Avenue in Verona, members of the Verona-Cedar Grove chorus file in to the H.B. Whitehorne Middle School music room for rehearsal.
As the group gathers, the accompanist plays the electric keyboard at low volume, providing a peppy, unintentional backdrop to the conversations happening around the room. The Director is all business, prepping for the night's rehearsal.
After a few minutes of mingling and discussion about upcoming ticket sales, the group settles down, and the director of the chorus expertly leads the group through warm ups. The group is preparing for its upcoming holiday concerts to be held on Dec. 11 and 12.
For the Verona-Cedar grove chorus, the dedicated musicianship and longtime friendships of its members have been its sustaining force, since the chorus' inception in 1949. That year, 16 members of the Verona PTA started a community chorus in the old red schoolhouse that stood in from of H.B. Whitehorne school. In various incarnations, the group has been rehearsing and performing ever since.
Tom Jung, President of the Chorus, attests to the close-knit nature of the group, "It's a fun place for people to get together. It's like family."
Jan Harder has been a member for 30 years. "I joined because I had just had a baby, and I needed something outside the house. I started in September of that year and I have never missed a concert. It used to be a bunch of us would go out afterward, so it was very much a social group." Stories like Harder's abound. It's that desire to be a part of the community that drives this chorus and that keeps longstanding members coming back year after year.
Joyce Liebelt, who used to be the President of the group, lives four houses away from Harder. They met 20 years ago over a downed tree in Liebelt's yard and, coincidentally, Liebelt joined the group of her own accord a few weeks later.
But the group isn't all longstanding members. Says Jung, "Our newest member just moved here from Brooklyn. She was looking for a group to join to be part of the town. Her husband, it turns out, works in my office."
Denise Bastanza, of Verona, has directed the chorus for 13 years. Paul Villarreal is the accompanist for the group. Villarreal remarks upon the great respect between Bastanza and the chorus members. "I think that the group enjoys the conductor and vice versa. There is a good chemistry. The members and conductor feed off of each other and have a good time." Villarreal was the Music Director of Godspell in Plainfield this past year. He teaches music in Elizabeth.
This year's concerts promise to be unique. The group will hold a small benefit performance at 7 p.m. on Tuesday Dec. 7 at the Woodland Valley Senior Citizen Building, 115 Woodland Avenue, West Orange.
At 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 11, the group performs at Verona High School, 151 Fairview Avenue. Tickets are $10 and $5 for seniors and students.
At 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 12, the group will hold a benefit dinner and concert at the Community Church, 65 Bowden Road in Cedar Grove. The Dinner starts at 6:30 and the concert starts at 7:30. Prices are as follows: Dinner only: Adults $10 and seniors/children $8. Concert only: Adults $10 and seniors/children $5. Combo ticket: Adults $16 and seniors/children $12.
The Verona-Cedar Grove Chorus is always eager to welcome new singers in all vocal categories, preferably those who have some choral experience in school or with a house of worship. No audition is required.
Members of the Verona-Cedar Grove Chorus
Donna Del Giudice
* Denotes 20 years or more with the chorus.