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Sounds of the Season

Springfield Chorale celebrates 30 years of concerts at St. Mark's Lutheran Church.

Springfield's best kept secret is waiting to be uncovered.

For the past 30 years, the Springfield Chorale has performed three or four concerts each season, filling St. Mark's Lutheran Church in Springfield and other churches in Fairfax County with their 70-voice ensemble, highlighting everything from Mozart to Broadway favorites.

"When this group first started, they raised $600 to go to Norfolk and perform and that was a big deal," said director Robert Webb, who has led the orchestra for more than 25 of its 30 years. "Initially, the group had two concerts and would go to various churches to perform. There were often more people singing than in the audience."

Webb was invited to sing with the chorale by some of his Northern Virginia Community College students and became friends with Dr. Jack Martin, who founded the Chorale when he was pastor at Sydenstricker Methodist Church in 1975. When Martin was reassigned to another church in Virginia, he asked Webb to take over the chorale.

With the implementation of a three-concert series each year, some featuring local orchestras and high school Madrigal groups, Webb said the chorale has grown from a group with "no operating budget" to one with a budget of $30,000 each year and has seen its audiences grow as well.

"This group has blossomed into a really fine chorale," Webb said. "I just hope we can continue to attract a bigger audience."

The Springfield Chorale, it seems, is relatively unknown within choir-rich Northern Virginia.

"We're a very busy group, but no one seems to know about us," said chorale president Clydette Lobred, who's been a member of the chorale since its early days.

The group has also begun traveling to Europe, she said, performing in Germany, Austria, Italy and France. In addition, the Springfield Chorale has been invited to lead the Kennedy Center's Messiah sing-a-long concert for the past two years, she said.

"We're waiting for our White House invite," Lobred said.

She was attracted to the chorale, having sung in churches and choirs for most of her life, because she wanted "to have a chance to sing all different kind of music, not just hymns," she said.

MANY OF the 70 singers in the chorale have some music background, either from performing in choirs or teaching music to others, Lobred said.

An almost equal balance of male and female voices gives the chorale " a strong balance" which allows Webb to select "a broad scope of music," Lobred said.

The Springfield Chorale has three concerts each year, she said, beginning with a holiday-themed performance in December. This year's concert, called "Welcome All Wonders," takes place on Saturday, Dec. 3, at 8 p.m. at St. Mark's Lutheran Church on Backlick Road. The concert will feature Christmas carols, Hanukkah and Kwanza pieces, Lobred said, and will end with a Christmas carol sing-a-long.

The second concert will be on Saturday, March 25 and will feature works by Mozart for the 225th anniversary of his birth, including the well-known "Requiem." The final concert of the year will be on Saturday, May 13 and will celebrate the group's 30th anniversary with a pops concert, featuring Broadway selections, folk and gospel music, Lobred said.

Throughout the year, the chorale visits VA hospitals and nursing homes as part of a community outreach program, Lobred said.

"I love listening to and making music," said 25-year chorale member Sue Cook. A former music teacher who felt more comfortable performing as part of a group than as a soloist, Cook said she enjoys the opportunity to "offer beautiful music at reasonable prices" to people in her community.

"We've been singled out as being from Springfield, but many of our members don't live here," she said. "We're thinking of changing our name to reflect our membership and maybe bring in a few more people to the audience."

THE CHORALE "gives a little smattering of everything" through its concert series, Cook said. "Our pops concert at the end of the series also has homemade desserts and some lighter music, and it always sells out. We like to perform a variety of things, but our performances are always top notch."

After hearing the chorale perform Mozart's "Requiem" at a concert, Dale Weigel felt compelled to join.

"I've sung all my life. I started singing in high school and continued through graduate school," he said. "The chorale takes a bunch of fairly decent singers, puts them together and makes us into something great."

Weigel, who is also the chair of the chorale's board of directors, said the group is beginning to spend "a lot of time and effort making ourselves better known," but admits he's not sure why the group is relatively unknown.

"This group does everything itself, we don't have a paid staff," Weigel said. "We just like to come and sing."

Those new to a Springfield Chorale concert would most likely be "surprised at the quality of the performances," he said. "They might be surprised at how much they enjoy chorale music."

The Northern Virginia area is known as "a chorale capital of the world" because of its plethora of performing groups, Weigel said. "There are probably more groups in this area than in some other parts of the world. We have at least four world-class amateur groups here."