Making beautiful music together
Celebrating four decades of music and a legacy of impacting thousands of Southern Oregon youth since it began, the Rogue Valley Youth Chorus has put a call out to all alumni for a reunion concert at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Craterian Theater in Medford.
Come one, come all, founder Doris Sjolund said this week.
The reunion concert will feature past and present directors and students, as well as highlight traditions that have marked the 40 years of song for the organization.
Sjolund founded the Rogue Valley Children’s Chorus, which would eventually expand into three additional groups to include Cantare (middle-school singers) and a Youth Ensemble for high-school singers.
Sjolund, who recently turned 80, will make a guest directing appearance at the concert.
When a friend wandered into the elementary school classroom Sjolund was teaching in during the early 1970s, the now-retired music educator said she never imagined a simple suggestion would help launch a regionally renowned organization and the only one of its kind in the state.
“A friend of mine, Judy Cushing, came into my music room. She said, ‘You ought to start a chorus. I sang in one when I was growing up and it was a lot of fun. I’ll play (piano) for you if you do it,’” Sjolund recalled.
“So I credit her for the idea and for sort of nudging me in the direction of all this. Judy and two other friends joined as my assistants, and it was great fun.”
Sjolund said the group survived for years on donated practice spaces, much like today, in area high schools and sometimes churches.
The group began with just over four-dozen local kids, eager to sing, Sjolund said.
Its premiere performance, Dec. 4, 1973, featured Bach’s “Komm, Jesu komm” and Respighi’s “Laud to the Nativity.”
“It just grew almost immediately. The first year we had maybe 45, half of whom came from my school. The next year, it was 75. And it sort of stayed that big for a long time,” Sjolund said.
When the group seemed a bit too big, Sjolund and her crew of directors and volunteers split the singers into the three groups — elementary, middle and high school levels.
All three groups currently practice at North Medford High School, though the recent pandemic restrictions found them vying for practice space in local churches.
Pam Nordquist, director of the Youth Ensemble, said she was excited to see some familiar faces Saturday and to celebrate Sjolund for all she built so many years ago.
Nordquist, who moved to the Rogue Valley in 2001, said she was “immediately put to work” as an assistant for the children’s group and had watched countless local students don the familiar bright blue shirts of the organization.
“One of the best things that this organization has done is serve our community and give kids an opportunity to sing and be a part of something bigger than just their school or their church,” Nordquist said, noting that the youngest of the three groups, the Youth Ensemble, would mark 20 years — also with a reunion concert — next year.
“It is just a wonderful program that has impacted so many lives. Many of those people who sang in youth choruses are not parents, whose kids are singing in our groups,” she said. “A lot of very beautiful music has been made during all these years, and it’s all thanks to Doris for its inspirational beginning.”
Sjolund said the reunion concert would be a celebration of the successes of the singing groups and its alumni, many of whom have gone on to great successes, in music and other fields.
Sjolund said some alumni were traveling from other states to participate, and she was eager to see so many familiar faces — and to hear their melodic voices.
Current groups and alumni would all sing, with alumni participating in the final two songs.
“We’ll have music ready for them in case they’ve forgotten some of the songs. And the last number we sing, ‘Love Your Neighbors,’ which is something that was sung as concerts for many, many years in the beginning,” she said.
“They’re allowing me to direct that one at the end of the concert, which will be very special.”
Sjolund marveled at how a growing organization that promotes musical education began with “a good idea.”
“Who would have thought when a parent wandered into my room with an idea that it would become a big part of the community and such a unique and successful choral program,” Sjolund said.
“Our singers and our community should be very proud of what has been created here. I’m excited to see everyone on Saturday.”
Saturday’s reunion concert, at the Craterian in Medford, will feature all three Rogue Valley Youth Choruses — the Children’s Chorus, directed by Gerry Flock; Cantare chorus, directed by Shayne Flock; and the Youth Ensemble, directed by Pam Nordquist. Appearing as guests of Cantare will be the singers from McLoughlin Middle School.
Tickets are available at the door; $10 for adults and $5 for kids.
For more details, see roguevalleychorale.org/youth-choruses/
Alumni sign-up (encouraged but not required): roguevalleychorale.org/celebrateforty
Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at email@example.com