Wayne County Choral Union bids farewell

Wayne County Choral Union bids farewell

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A longtime Wayne County musical group that once boasted nearly 100 singers has decided to end its existence, completing its long-running platform of entertaining the community.

Since 2002 the Wayne County Choral Union has brought together those who enjoy singing as a hobby to give them a chance to show off their talents several times a year in various shows across Wayne County including feature presentations at Wooster’s Church Walks, Window Wonderland, Wayne County Public Library, Wooster Masonic Temple, Orrville’s Home for the Holidays at Heartland Point and Orrville Christ United Church of Christ, in addition to the group’s biannual concerts.

But when the pandemic hit, in addition to the choral union needing a new director, the time came to re-evaluate its future.

“Some of the area churches voted to not open their facilities to outside groups,” said Choral Union board member Jo Walter, who throughout her tenure with the group also served as its secretary and president. “Singing had been temporarily halted at their weekly church services, and it was difficult to obtain a director when you have a chorus but no rehearsing and difficult to call a rehearsal when you have no meeting place or director. The WCCU board, not the members, voted to disband.

“After much discussion, what-if’s and, yes, tears, it was decided that it was time. We had an excellent run with approximately 70-plus concerts and smaller venue performances. We learned at every rehearsal, laughed and shared our love of music with so many fellow singer friends. To everything there is a season.”

Walter and her fellow choral members had taken a look at what other groups like theirs were doing during the first weeks of the pandemic and could see many of them were not seeing a positive outcome, thanks to COVID-19.

Walter especially took note of the Skagit Valley Chorale in Northwest Washington state, which experienced one of the first and most famous super-spreader events in the country during a rehearsal on March 10, 2020. While everything in the area was still open, the group decided to hold one last rehearsal that day, where 61 people attended.

At the time there were no known cases in Skagit Valley, so the chorale thought it was safe, but just two weeks later, 52 members who attended that final rehearsal were diagnosed with COVID, resulting in two deaths. This ultimately was something the Wayne County Choral Union looked at and would eventually be one of the factors in its decline.

“The decision to disband the Choral Union was a well-thought-out but gut-wrenching decision made by the present and immediate-past board members over the past two years,” said Erin O’Neil, past president. “Some of these same board members were charter members that helped form and sustain the group. Going into the pandemic, the group was between music directors.

“Having to shut down in the midst of the search for a new music director caused us to lose momentum. Our search committee struggled with trying to attract candidates when we didn’t even know when we would be able to resume rehearsals and concerts. How could we attract new members if we didn’t have a director?”

O’Neil said much of the group’s membership consisted of retirees and senior citizens who were already hesitant about resuming rehearsal attendance for fear of exposing themselves to illness.

Although various attempts at outdoor singing opportunities and resuming rehearsals were made, only nine to 13 people returned on any regular basis.

“The board attempted to think outside of the box in an effort to keep the group going, but in essence the Choral Union members themselves made the decision by not returning to the group in numbers large enough to sustain the organization,” O’Neil said.

Shortly after it had begun, the Choral Union had always given out two scholarships each year to graduating Wayne County seniors who had an interest in pursuing music in some form during their college educations. This year marks the end of that era too with Waynedale High School graduate Brooklyn Schlabach and Rittman High School graduate Tayvis Mayfield as the final recipients. Each will receive a $500 scholarship to further their educations.

Schlabach, who was involved in band, choir and National Honor Society at Waynedale, will attend Mount Union University and pursue a degree in music education. Mayfield has a love for cyber security, and while at Rittman, he participated in band, choir and the Drama Club as the sound and lights technician. He will attend Kent State University and major in music performance.

Although the Choral Union will no longer exist in Wayne County, the board did find a way to continue helping students in Wayne County with a love for music.

“We tried many things to remain viable, but it became clear that this was not possible,” Walter said. “Thus, we set about to find a way to use our assets to benefit others in their musical endeavors. To continue our musical legacy, the Choral Union, a nonprofit organization, has established a fund at the Wayne County Community Foundation to benefit music education in Wayne County high schools. Those interested may make a donation to honor or in memory of someone.”

Checks should be written to Wayne County Community Foundation with “Wayne County Choral Union” in the memo and mailed to WCCF, 517 N. Market St., Wooster, OH 44691.