This Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. voices will echo at the First Evangelical Lutheran Church, 360 Wyeth Street in St. Helens.

The Columbia Chorale of Oregon and the River City's Children's Choir will present Joyful Singing.

Columbia Chorale of Oregon

The Columbia Chorale of Oregon at a performance.

The Chronicle reached out to Marilyn Allen, the Chair of the Columbia Chorale Board of Directors, for insight into this local group.

The Chronicle: When was the Columbia Chorale of Oregon established and why?

Marilyn Allen: This version of Columbia Chorale of Oregon began in the fall of 2001. We met Ryan Heller during an interview for a church choir director. Someone asked Ryan if he would also be interested in resurrecting a community chorus, also called Columbia Chorale, which had been in existence in previous years but had closed. He was eager to lead such a group, and so that fall, we began rehearsing in the St. Helens High School choral room to begin rehearsals. The chorus was registered as a 501(c)3 in 2005.

Many of our singers over the years have had substantial vocal music background and were eager to sing with a group. Many singers have also said, “This is the first time I’ve sung since high school or college.” Some of us have been involved in church music, so this was an opportunity to sing in different styles of choral music. And for most of us, it has been a place to belong.

The Chronicle: When was the name changed to River City Singers and which name should we be using for our story?

Allen: A number of years ago, the board of directors was attempting to help us appeal to a wider audience. Some board members thought a different name might help. There had been a children’s choir a few years previously, not connected to our organization, which had been known as River City Children’s Choir. So we decided that we could restart that group for children, and also have the adult choir perform as River City Singers. That name has been in use for maybe eight years, but we have always officially been Columbia Chorale of Oregon. The board just this summer decided that we would stay with the official name, for our new website (www.columbiachorale.org), and for performances. We will continue to use the River City Singers name from time to time.

The Chronicle: How many adults and children are participating with the group?

Allen: Before we closed due to Covid restrictions, we had about 30 singers. For this coming concert, we will have about half that. The children’s group several years ago had about 10-12 singers. Again, that group is about at half the number.

The Chronicle: What is the range of music presented by this group and why that music?

Allen: Over the years, we have sung many standard classical works, such as Handel’s Messiah, Haydn’s Creation, Mozart’s Requiem, and Britten’s Ceremony of Carols. We have also done popular music, from Cole Porter and jazz, to music of the 1970s. We often perform seasonal music, from Christmas and Halloween, to patriotic music for Memorial and Veterans Days. We also have provided background music for the St. Helens Police Department’s Donut Days, and for events at the fairgrounds and the Scappoose Airport.

The Chronicle: What is it about singing that you believe is inspiring and enriching to our community?

Allen: We love to sing! And in this group, we know if this concert isn’t our favorite music, another concert will be more classical, or focus more on popular tunes. Our current Artistic Director, Alice Boyer, challenges us with a wide selection of styles, while helping us to develop our vocal skills.

There are very few opportunities to hear or participate in good quality vocal music in the south county region, or anywhere in Columbia County. We have received grants from the Columbia County Cultural Coalition to help keep us afloat during the two years of closure. We appreciate this help from our local community.

The Chronicle: What is your role and how long have you been associated with the group?

Allen: I have sung with Chorale from the very beginning in 2001, with a few short breaks. I began serving on the board about ten years ago. I am currently the board chairperson.

The Chronicle also spoke with Linda Fuller, the River Singers Children's Choir director.

The Chronicle: How many children and what is the age range of the children participating with River City Singers?

Linda Fuller: After a year of on-line choir, we are pleased to have 5 singers meeting for in person rehearsals. Our Choir Quintet is made up of singers in grades one through eight. It is our hope that when we can have a full choir season next year that the choir will grow.

The Chronicle: What do you hope the children take away from their experience with River City Singers?

Fuller: The goal of the River City Children's Choir is to help young singers learn to use their voices correctly and introduce them to choral singing.

As the director, I use the techniques and pedagogy of Hungarian composer and educator Zoltán Kodály to help them become musically literate.

We begin by singing in unison, then progress to partner songs, rounds, and finally regular harmonic part singing.

Our selections include American and multicultural folk music, high quality composed music, and musicals.

The ultimate goal is to have a children's choir that can read, learn and perform a wide variety of music for their families and community.

The Chronicle: What do you take away from your experience with River City Singers?

Fuller: Joy. After retiring from full time teaching, I missed making music with children. Working with the children's choir allows me to use my skills and experiences to help young musicians again. I was blessed to have a job that I truly enjoyed and now I can continue in a much smaller format. It's fun to sing, play music games, and guide children as they develop musical skills.

The Chronicle: Briefly, what is your background and experience as a children's choir director?

Fuller: I taught general music in grades K-8 for over 30 years in Scappoose, Longview, and Beaverton. During that time period, I directed children's choirs in grades 3-6, middle school choir, and elementary band.

I have a B.A. from Portland State University, a Master of Music Education from the University of Portland, and a Ph.D. in Fine Arts - Music from Texas Tech University. I have served on the Board of Directors of the Oregon Music Educator Association, and as president of the Southern Washington Kodály Educators. I have presented research posters and workshops on the local, state, regional, and national levels.

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