Choir participation is good for the community and the soul

Published 9:47 pm Friday, February 26, 2016


By Mark Schmerling


Combine an unused space marked for community enjoyment with passion and harmony, and you get the Saluda Community Choir.


When Betsy Burdett purchased St. Matthews Church on Irving Street on Saluda’s west end, beyond the area where the tailgate market is held seasonally, she envisioned a place where local residents could gather to make music to enrich their community, said Patricia Roskens.


That was the humble birth process for the choir, directed by Roskens, who brings a wealth of teaching and musical experience.


“Her (Burdett’s) goal was to use that facility for community musical events,” Roskens said.


Last July, said Roskens, Burdett asked her if she would like to direct a choir. Roskens said that Burdett was applying for a grant to help fund a choir. Though the eventual grant was very modest (Roskens noted, “I’m doing this . . . sort of volunteering”), the choir is very real, having recently performed at the Saluda Presbyterian Church, and also during Saluda’s Hometown Christmas celebration. A spring concert is in the works.


Roskens is not a typical volunteer, but one with great musical and teaching ability and experience.


“My degrees are in elementary education and music,” she noted. “I attended Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Michigan State University. I’ve taken hundreds of workshops. I’ve taught for 32 years. I’ve taught at international schools, in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.”


“It’s really been interesting for me,” Roskens said. “It doesn’t matter if people can carry a tune, though, it’s nice of they can. The most important thing here is to provide rehearsals and events, where people can find their inner joy and connect with each other. If they leave with a greater sense of enrichment and joy, it’s worth it.”


Participants are “all a bit quirky,” Roskens noted, but added quickly that everyone is quirky in some way.


The Saluda area is home to a great variety of individuals, Roskens observed.


“I’ve taught in countries where there was more homogeneity in the populations.”


Participating in the choir does not require a finely trained voice, nor is the ability to read music.


“You don’t need to be able to read music to be a part of this choir,” Roskens emphasized, “or to be able to match pitch perfectly. You really have to enjoy singing with other people and sharing that, too.”


After singers practice together, she says that it is fun to share that with other community members. As far as repertoire, Roskens noted that it’s varied and not difficult.


“We do part-singing, some rounds . . . some humorous, some more serious.”


Practice is held every Monday evening at St. Matthews Church, Irving Street, from 7 – 8:30. To reach the church from town, follow Highway 176 west, past the Green River Barbecue, and down the short hill, taking the first right, past the end of the tailgate market area. Turn left onto Irving Street, drive up a short hill, and the church will be on the right.


“I’ve learned how important it is to use singing as a vehicle to cut through barriers, and to appreciate diversity with each other, to realize that we’re all connected,” Roskens said.

“Singing brings that out, to allow that awareness and appreciation to unfold. Singing has the potential to unify and connect people despite their diverse beliefs. Creating community is so important.”


Roskens related how participants say that rehearsals have energized them.


She describes herself as a tight rehearsal person. “It’s very structured. I have very specific goals. It’s not just sing along,” she stressed. However, she allows talking between numbers.


Roskens has two requests, based on the group’s limited funds: a stereo to play CDs and a piano at St. Matthews.


She cautions, “We don’t need a big, old piano that people want to dump. We just need a good, playable piano.” A functional upright piano would work fine, she added.


In addition, the choir needs more participants. Currently about a dozen members participate.


Roskens knows the value of belonging to, and participating with, this kind of group.


“Being a participant in expressing music is important in life. By taking the time in our life to express that musical part of us enriches our souls. Singing is so basic to all cultures,” she said.


For more information, phone Roskens at 828-424-0017. Or, show up Monday evenings at 7 p.m. at St. Matthews.