Community choirs in the Rogue Valley are as ubiquitous as deer in the crosswalks. An apocryphal Ashland story holds that before a new resident's house closes, the Realtor asks: "What part do you sing?"
Both singers and audiences are fortunate to have so many choral choices in Ashland. The one to which I belong, Siskiyou Singers, is both figuratively and literally a "family choir."
Begun in 1982, Siskiyou Singers is in its 29th season, and brother/sister, husband/wife, father/daughter are only some of the actual family combinations that sing with Siskiyou Singers.
A notable family pair this season is Mary Bergstrom and her father, Reinhold Sundeen, known to friends as Reiny.
Mary and Reiny have been singing together with this choir since 2003. Reiny came to music early. Growing up in Evanston, Ill., home to Northwestern University, he participated in the music school's programs for public-education students starting in third grade. In 1927, Reiny was one of 500 voices in a children's chorus singing with the Chicago Symphony and Madame Ernestine Schumann-Heink, a famous opera star. Reiny still remembers her encore, "It's Better to Laugh Than Cry," words he took to heart.
As a commissioned medical officer in the Navy, Reiny was assigned to a troop-transport ship. Artie Shaw and his band were once aboard returning from entertaining the troops, and Reiny made music in the surgery quarters with the band after hours all the way back to San Diego.
Back in civilian life, Reiny was a "family doc" in Ripon, Wis. He and his wife, Betty, sang with a madrigal group composed of music faculty and staff from Ripon College. A shift in his medical practice to psychiatry took the family to Los Altos, Calif., but the singing didn't stop. Reiny not only sang in the Methodist Church Choir but also helped Royal Stanton form the Schola Cantorum, a choir of 160 members that sang major choral works and is still going strong.
Reiny credits his wife with making his musical life possible because music and medicine are jealous mistresses, he says. She enabled him to be involved with both.
Mary, of course, grew up with music in her home and, by sixth grade, was singing in choirs. She says music is the tie that has bound the family together. As diverse as her five siblings are as adults, music has been a connecting bond.
Though Mary hadn't been in a choir since grade school and feared auditioning, she practiced with a friend. In 2003, she conquered the audition and has been in Siskiyou Singers ever since.
Now each Tuesday, Mary, an aerobics teacher at Ashland Family YMCA, and Reiny, now well into his 90s, meet with other singers at Wesley Hall for rehearsals. Reiny's bass and Mary's alto make Siskiyou Singers a better community choir.
It's not necessary to be related to someone in the choir to join. Adoptions happen naturally. For folks who love music and can't keep from singing, Siskiyou Singers is a choir to consider.
Annette Lewis has been singing with Siskiyou Singers since 2007.