Every Friday afternoon around 3:15 p.m. they begin wandering into the auditorium, black notebooks in hand. They check the manila folders placed along the edge of the stage for any new materials, find their places, then sit and chat for a few minutes while waiting for the 3:30 p.m. rehearsal to begin.
These are the Freedom Singers and in the above routine they mimic choruses and choirs the world over … except for the part about finding their places.
While most singing groups have four sections – soprano, alto, tenor and bass – this ensemble has five, the fifth being the “I’m-not-sure” section. Its members’ voices don’t really fit into any of the four usual parts, so they mostly just sing melody in whatever octave feels most comfortable for them.
The group was formed almost as soon as the doors of Freedom Plaza opened and from its beginning has welcomed any resident who wants to sing, regardless of musical ability. At one point, members laughingly dubbed themselves the Bucket Brigade because so many of them couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. Still, they came every week, laughing as much as they were singing, and enjoyed their time together.
Gradually, the group became a bit more serious about singing as the building filled and more resident vocalists joined the company. Many of these were church choir singers and experienced choral ensemble members – some even former choral directors. Their participation allowed the group to include more complex musical arrangements in their repertoire, improve their overall quality and feel ready to perform for fellow residents.
The Freedom Singers, numbering from 20 to 30 at any given time, began offering regular musicals and became a fixture at the annual Christmas Tree Lighting.
While the musicality and sound of the group is vastly improved, the atmosphere of having fun while making music still prevails. The “I’m-not-sure” section continues to flourish happily, and merriment sometimes dominates rehearsals.
This lighthearted manner will fit perfectly into an upcoming Aug. 30 event as the Freedom Singers host a Western singalong. First they will act as servers at punch bowls filled with a brew called Texas Tea, with some tenderfoot drinks also provided. Then they will take their places and perform some old cowboy tunes, such as “Wagon Wheels” and “Streets of Laredo.” They’ll ask the audience, which will be provided song sheets, to join them in such favorites as “Deep in the Heart of Texas” and “Don’t Fence Me In.”
The final number of the evening will be one that is also appropriate for ending newspaper articles: “Happy Trails to You.”
Peggy Burgess is a resident activities associate of Freedom Plaza and columnist for The Sun.