At 50, Columbia River Chorus still hits the high notes

32 members take to the stage for Sunday concert

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Director Paul Olguin says chorus members are dedicated and motivated to improve. He will direct the a cappella group at a regional contest April 25-27 in Boise, Idaho.

The Columbia River Chorus was chartered in December 1962 and joined the organization known as Sweet Adelines International, which today has 30,000 women members across the globe. Its headquarters is in Tulsa, Okla.

The Columbia River Chorus was chartered in December 1962 and joined the organization known as Sweet Adelines International, which today has 30,000 women members across the globe. Its headquarters is in Tulsa, Okla.

There was that nervous energy all performers know as the singers prepared for Sunday’s 50th-anniversary show.

And then, members of the Columbia River Chorus were on stage in their gold and black outfits, belting out “Cabaret” in four-part harmony.

And three founding members of the chorus were in the audience.

In 1962, Mary Ann Rautio, 80, and Dorothy Ravoli, 90, joined about 20 other women to form the barbershop group.

“I learned a lot,” said Rautio. “It was exciting to learn to sing harmony.”

“I sang all my life,” Ravoli said. “It was wonderful.”

Founding member Betty Walker also was at the event.

The women were among some 130 guests who attended the concert at First Congregational Church in east Hazel Dell.

Asked about the allure of the group, assistant director Connie Meuchel of Ridgefield said, “It keeps your mind active. There are many plates to spin in singing this kind of music. A cappella is a whole different deal.” She’s been with the chorus 35 years.

Meuchel said some Monday nights she feels too weary to attend rehearsal. But she can’t miss them, and being there has its rewards.

“I go home so energized, so optimistic. For me, it’s really an uplift,” Meuchel said.

There is dedication to the music and to each other, Meuchel said.

“We’ve lost several members to death. Breast cancer. Some lost husbands, We comfort each other,” she said.

Members come from throughout the metropolitan area and 32 of them performed Sunday. The youngest is 12-year-old Sydney Bailey, who sings in the chorus with her mom, Laurie Bailey, and there are singers in their 80s.

Longtime county labor official Ed Barnes was there to support his wife, Luanne, who he said has been with the chorus for 26 years.

Luanne’s singing “keeps us from fightin’,” Barnes said, laughing. “She enjoys music immensely.”

Margaret Brock of St. Helens, Ore., joined the chorus in 1968. With four boys in the house, “My husband felt I needed something different in my life. … It’s such a joyful part of my life,” she said.

Joyce Engel of Vancouver, who joined in 1974, said she recruits for the chorus. When she hears a good voice, she gives the woman a “Love to sing” card, encouraging her to join.

In three weeks, the chorus will be in Boise, Idaho, to compete in a four-state regional competition.

Paul Olguin said he was “a little apprehensive” when he was asked a year ago to direct the chorus. “I essentially fell in love with them after three months,” he said.

“I’m motivated by singers who want to improve,” said Olguin, who is a freelance arranger, performer and composer. “They’re very dedicated.”

The group showed its range with “May You Always,” made famous by the McGuire Sisters, Nat King Cole’s “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” “L-O-V-E,” as in L is for the way you look at me, and “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”

The 50th event had touches of nostalgia, with photos of the chorus through the decades posted in the foyer.

Darwin Scheel, who directed the group for 24 years, was brought up to lead two numbers.

And Rautio had her own piece of history: a Columbian clipping from Jan. 3, 1967. The color photo by Steve Small showed the Pinetones, a quartet of Rautio, Rivoli, Dot Johnson and Pat Perry.

And what’s it like up there on stage with the chorus?

“Oh,” Meuchel said, ‘It’s great fun.”