When Bob Hegerich founded the Wakefield Chorale in 1982, he just wanted to have some fun singing with a couple of neighbors.
It started with eight members who got together once a week. Now, 25-years-later, nearly 60 members are still singing, and they’re doing it for senior citizens.
"I started the group to preserve my sanity," said Hegerich, the chorale’s director. "It was something to take the pressure off."
It really began in 1971, though, said original chorale member Sylvia Buonincontri, via e-mail. Hegerich was a newcomer to the neighborhood and he joined a singing group of ex-church choir members, the Spiritones, to which Buonincontri belonged. She soon learned that Hegerich had directing experience and asked him to take over for the outgoing Spiritones’ director.
Hegerich directed the group for about 10 years, she said, and then left to continue his education. It was about a year later that the Wakefield Chorale was born, since Hegerich wanted to resume directing but the Spiritones had already found a replacement.
"He rounded up a pianist, Carolyn Dankel, and I recruited four members from the Spiritones who were willing to sing at both groups," said Buonincontri, via e-mail.
Hegerich and Buonincontri lived in Springfield at the time, and Dankel lived in Annandale. But in order to use Fairfax County facilities for practice, Hegerich said the group had to register with the IRS. They set up as a nonprofit cultural foundation and elected officers. The Wakefield Recreation Center was nearby, and it seemed like a likely practice facility, so they named themselves the Wakefield Chorale.
They never did practice there, though. Instead, Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke became their home. While Lake Braddock undergoes renovations though, the chorale is temporarily practicing at Falls Church High School.
The eight-member group immediately began singing for senior citizens, said Hegerich. In addition to providing free entertainment to people who really seem to enjoy, he said the chorale "just gets a large kick out of it."
"We get so much pleasure out of singing to people in the senior residences," said Rita Rogers, a 24-year member. "Plus they build up our ego."
SINCE THE CHORALE is celebrating its silver anniversary this year, they tried to contact all of the people who have been members through the years so they could attend the special anniversary performance, Sunday, May 20. Many members have either moved or died, said Dave Goode, president of the chorale. He said the chorale had trouble tracking down many members as well.
"We’ll be lucky to get 5 percent of the crew," said Goode.
The concert will still be special in that the public can attend. Most gigs are at small senior facilities, so there’s usually just enough room for the seniors, and their family and friends. The anniversary concert, which will include reception after the show, is at the Ernst Community Cultural Center, on Northern Virginia Community College’s campus, 8333 Little River Turnpike.
"We thought that 25 years is a big deal as a singing group," said Goode.
And while the group sings for fun, they really sound good too, said Rogers. They are mostly amateurs, said Goode, but through fun and hard-working practices every Tuesday night, they sound like professionals. The youngest members are in their 30s, and the oldest are in their 80s, said Hegerich.
"We have all different levels of talent," he said.
NOW THAT THE GROUP is approaching 60 members, Goode’s job is becoming increasingly important. Goode is the one who arranges all of the group’s gigs. Fairfax County has about 130 senior residences, including retirement communities and assisted living facilities, he said. Goode calls around and tries to find a place that could use a little singing to, and he books a performance.
"Our fee is great. You can’t beat it, it’s zero dollars," said Goode.
Sometimes people hear that and think the group must lack talent, said Goode, with a laugh. And other times, places will book the chorale around 8 p.m. — a time when many seniors are preparing for bed, he said.
"It’s really discouraging when you go up there and you outnumber the audience," said Goode. "It’s too late; they’ve gone to bed."
So Goode makes sure that when he books a location, the timing is right and all the card games and bingo nights have been postponed, he said. Once he works out the logistics, the seniors can sit back and enjoy a "two-hour sing fest."
In honor of the chorale’s 25th anniversary year, Rogers said the musical variety will reach through history. They will perform Broadway tunes, patriotic songs, solos and duets, to name a few.
"This year, we’re sort of taking you through the ages [with the spring anniversary performance]," said Rogers. "It’s very mixed."
"We just love to sing," said Goode.