By Erin Pittman
Just a short conversation with Gainesville Community Choir Director Jacob Lash is all you need to quickly pick up on themes that guide the group’s practices and performances: passion, education and inclusion. Since the spring of 2013, the choir has been gathering and sharing their voices with the community. Once a group of 40, they’ve since more than doubled in size to 85.
Gainesville Community Choir Members
Choir members range in age from teens to retirees. The group requires no auditions, so they are also diverse in their levels of experience and training.
“The fact that we have so much diversity in this way is really one of my favorite things about the choir. We have folks every year who have never done this in their lives and don’t know a thing about reading music. But we also have voice majors and music teachers and everyone in between,” said Founder and Director
Jacob Lash, who leads the choir with his assistant, Kerrie Cardine.
Lash also commented on the strong sense of community among members. “We have a team mentality that I’m very grateful for,” he said. “The vibe is really awesome.”
Member Katie Newberger echoed Lash’s sentiments, “It is a wonderful gift to be a part of GCC! I love how music brings people together in incredibly meaningful ways. When we sing as a choir, we’re learning to listen to each other, to blend our voices, and work together to create something beautiful. There is something vulnerable, powerful, and deeply moving about people from all ages and backgrounds coming together, picking up the same piece of music, and singing together.”
This fall, Lash intends to expand the choir’s reach even further by creating the Gainesville Community Youth Choir consisting of middle school students under the direction of highly experienced teacher Sherlee Glomb.
“We are really excited about this. Leadership will focus a lot on training them to read music and learn vocal technique,” said Lash.
The Choir’s Repertoire
Just like with their ages and experience levels, the group’s repertoire is also varied.
“We love variety,” said Lash, who reports that this season’s song list includes an Indian piece, folk music, a hymn arrangement, film music and even a sea shanty.
“The variety keeps the audience entertained, and our songs appeal to a wide base and different musical tastes and interests,” said Lash. Songs change each semester to ensure there is always something for every choir and audience member to enjoy and relate to. The varied music also provides members the opportunity to learn different vocal techniques and grow their talents.
The choir meets weekly for rehearsals. Each session begins with a presentation from Lash or Cardine about reading music notation or various vocal techniques. The group then works to incorporate what they’ve learned into their warm up and throughout rehearsal. One of the unique things about this choir is the focus
on growing musicians, not just preparing for performances.
“This allows people to see that they are improving as a singer and musician, not just learning songs,” said Lash.
Choir leadership includes Lash, Cardine, and four section leaders. The choir is accompanied by pianist Pam Sottosanti, who has been a piano teacher for 40 years and been playing since age 5.
“Pam joined us about three years ago. She’s so skilled and wonderful to work with, and it allows me to lead full time from the podium,” said Lash.
In addition to weekly rehearsals, a few times a year leadership may offer educational classes. Topics include ear training, sight singing and music literacy.
“The atmosphere of family and friends is amazing, and the joy of learning music is so surreal in this choir. This choir is one big family from all kinds of backgrounds who come together to share God’s greatest gift of music and bring happiness into other people’s lives,” said member Mike Chester.
Gainesville Community Choir Events
The choir loves to perform and share their talents with the community. One of their favorite annual events is Choir for a Day. This year’s event was scheduled for May 12. Prior to the event, each choir member invites friends to one rehearsal. At this particular rehearsal, everyone in attendance learns two songs together. At the event, the group invites these participants to join them on stage in the concert for these two songs.
“This event has been hugely successful in helping us recruit members, but it’s also just giving community members who don’t have time to commit to weekly practices a fun experience,” said Lash.
The choir runs two sessions per year, one from August to early December, and the other from January to May. Each session ends in two concerts. The group is a nonprofit and focuses on making their performances accessible to everyone with low-cost tickets. Their spring concerts are scheduled for May 23 and 24.
In addition to regular performances, the choir is passionate about singing in the community. They have entertained crowds at Manassas Mall and residents in assisted living facilities in the area and are interested in more opportunities this year.
“Singing in GCC has changed my life! Not through big things, but through the countless little ones,” said member Darren Nisly. “Making music, in community, is one of the most powerful human experiences. The feeling of notes and rhythms transforming into songs; words, turning into powerful vehicles of meaning; and strangers becoming friends is one that changes you. Once you experience it, it’s a part of you, there’s nothing else like it!”
If you’re interested in learning more or becoming a member of the Gainesville Community Choir, email Lash
at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website at gainesvillecommunitychoir.com.
Erin Pittman has been a writer for 10 years, but a lover of words her entire life. Her work is published in local magazines and on local and national blogs. Contact Erin at email@example.com.