SALEM – It’s been 19 years or more since any of them sang together on the stage in the Salem High School Auditorium.
On Oct. 12, they’ll be like 17-year-olds again, no matter what their ages nor how silver their hair is.
The event will be the Chorale Alumni Concert put on by current members of the Salem High School Chorale and Salem Singers, combining with alumni from 38 years at Andrew Lewis High School and Salem High School.
Former Choral Director Bill Snyder and current director Kristi Vernon – who was one of his students when she graduated in 1986 – are pulling together the event. They hope to attract hundreds of former singers from the two high schools.
And of those who’ll probably come, more than 20 have music-related careers.
The Oct. 12 concert, which starts at 7:30 p.m., is free, with a reception to follow. The next day, Snyder’s alumni are invited to perform the sacred pieces of music from the concert at First United Methodist Church in Salem for the 11 a.m. service.
The last time there was a reunion concert, the year was 1994, and 175 Chorale alumni showed up, said Vernon, who has been Choral Director at SHS since 2006. Snyder directed the singers from 1970 to 2000.
Vernon has invited Snider to conduct a portion of the program because she was one of his students from 1984-1986 when she graduated.
This year the two directors are expecting at least 125 alumni singers, plus Vernon’s current students. Still others are coming, but don’t plan to sing, she said.
“It’s going to be great,” Snyder said.
Former singers have been contacted through Facebook and other social media. Just in case, though, Vernon is putting out flyers and other approaches to find anyone who sang with Snyder or her over the years.
The Facebook group that has al the details is https://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/chorale2013reunion/ hosted by David Duncan, Chorale Alumnus. Alumni will be getting together to rehearse the morning of the concert, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The evening before, they’re invited to get together from 5-7 p.m. at the choir room, and afterwards, at Mac and Bob’s restaurant.
Neither Snyder nor Vernon expect that small amount of rehearsal time will be a problem.
“You have to remember, it’s like riding a bike,” said Snyder. “It comes back.” For his portion of the program, singers will be doing selected pieces he directed three or four times over the years. “They were exposed to them at least once in their four years of high school,” he said.
He tried to get Vernon to take over for him when he retired, Snyder recalled, “when she was choral director at Glenvar High School, “but I wasn’t ready to follow you,” she told him recently, laughing.
“When you have somebody who’s been here 31 years, you don’t want to follow them,” she added.
For her portion of the program, Vernon has chosen a few songs for her current Chorale singers that she performed.
The two talked about the upcoming performance while Snyder, at the baby grand piano he got the school to purchase while he was director, played “My Sugar is so Refined.” “We sang this when I was at Salem High School,” Vernon pointed out.
Salem High School David Duncan from the early 1980s is helping get the word out through social media, Vernon said. Duncan lives in Fairfax now, and set up the Facebook page for the reunion concert. A letter was also mailed out by snail mail to those singers they couldn’t reach by email, she said.
With a trace of sadness, “Uncle Bill” Snyder mentioned 10 percent of his former students are deceased, “and we’ll honor their memory. Some of their sisters and brothers will take part in that.”
To Vernon’s knowledge, none of her singers have died, she said.
The two have been thinking about putting on the alumni concert since April. Why now? “She backed me into a corner,” Snyder said.
Although students called him “Uncle Bill,” he was known as demanding, and with high expectations. “the way I looked at it, they were my young professionals.”
Snyder’s Chorales had about 40 singers per year. “We kept it small so there would be enough boys, and they would all be able to travel in one bus,” he said. These days, Vernon has about 30 students in her Chorale. “There are so many other activities going on,” she said. And then she added, “The Chorale students have been some of the best kids that ever came out of these schools.”
There’s a mutual admiration society between Snyder and his former students. One wrote on the Facebook site:
“Bill Snyder taught me that anything worth having is worth hard work. We loved practicing hours on end because every time we sang a song again it sounded better. He also taught me to trust. When he said, ‘If we practiced hard, we could make it sound great,’ we believed and it happened. He taught me to love all kinds of music whether it was what was on the radio or in Latin, or sacred. All music was a way to express yourself. Bill Snyder taught me about the kind of person I wanted to be because he set a great example.”
To get an idea of how much musical talent came from the Chorales over the years, see the accompanying list of former students who are have ties to music.