Story by Paula Shryock
Photos provided by Stillwater Community Singers
The Stillwater Community Singers will be celebrating their 25th anniversary with a concert at 7:30 pm on August 22, 2019, in the Winfrey Houston Theater at the Stillwater Community Center. The program will include songs from the very first year – “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” from The Lion King, “Do You Hear the People Sing?” from Les Miserables, and “Some Enchanted Evening” from South Pacific. Past emcees will entertain the audience throughout the evening, and former singers will join us in singing “Oklahoma” at the end of the concert. Afterward, a reception will be held in the Lowry Activity Center, featuring a 25th Anniversary cake. We hope you will join us in celebrating this milestone!
On August 30, 1994, the newly formed Stillwater Civic Chorale, sponsored by the local St. Cecilia Music Club, met for their first rehearsal in the Stillwater Community Center. Fifty-three charter members performed the very first concert, “Broadway from the Twenties to the Nineties,” on October 27, 1994. Tom Anderson directed the Chorale for that first concert and the following Christmas concert, with Cozette Grimes conducting the spring concert. Julie Boersma, Melanie Bayles, Gayla Foster, Kay Smith, and Katie Strawn were the accompanists during the first two years.
The founding premise of the Chorale, as stated by Tom Anderson in the August 14, 1994, Stillwater NewsPress, was that it “will be open to all adults and high school students in the community and surrounding area who want to participate in choral singing, with no auditions required.” That idea has continued to this day, with many members coming from Stillwater and nearby towns, such as Perry, Pawnee, Ripley, Mulhall, and Yale.
In October 1995, the Chorale changed its name to Stillwater Community Singers. Members Ken Carter, Jo Martindale, Larry Johnson, and Glenna McElwain directed the group for several years. In 1999, Ken Carter became the permanent director and continued for 16 years, until Judy White took over as director in 2015.
Kim Strom has been the principal accompanist since April 1996, with Laura Davis as the assistant accompanist. Alan Shryock acted as the first emcee at the Christmas 1996 concert and continued through April 2002. Other emcees have included Camilla Riley (October 2002–December 2006), Judy White (April 2007–September 2011), and Kyle Eastham (December 2011–December 2015). Since April 2016, Kent Houck has served as the current emcee. Stage managers have included Lana Carter, Lee Freeman, and current manager, Paula Fitch.
During the second year, a Women’s Chorus was created and continues today. Several women served as directors of this group during the first years, including Jo Martindale, Lisa Padilla, Diana Edmon, Glenna McElwain, and Judy White. Currently, Paula Shryock and Paula Fitch share the women’s director responsibility. Not to be left out, the men of the group sang together as the Men’s Chorus, Barbershop, and SUAVE, under the directorship of Larry Johnson.
Stillwater Community Singers have always enjoyed the support of the Stillwater Community Center. The Community Center provides rehearsal and concert space, and staff helps with sound, lighting, and setup and take-down. The Stillwater NewsPress and STORE it RITE Storage are also current co-sponsors. Other major co-sponsors in the past included the Stillwater Arts and Humanities Council and Jared Cranke and Searching for Red Productions.
To give back to the Stillwater Community Center, the Singers have held fundraisers to purchase various pieces of equipment to be used by any performing groups in the Center. The first fundraiser campaign, “I Love a Piano” was for a Kawai grand piano. Other equipment purchased for the Center are six sets of risers with side and back rails, an electric keyboard, piano microphones, recording equipment, and stage lighting. The Stillwater Community Singers also donate to the Center half of all monies collected at each concert.
The Singers also feel it is important to give back to the area communities. We have been fortunate to perform for a variety of groups: Stillwater’s Run for the Arts, the Pawnee Folk and Spring Fest, Perry Christmas Village, Kameoka Sister Cities receptions, DVIS Wings of Hope candlelight vigils, the Lowry Activity Center opening, a welcoming reception for OSU President Burns Hargis, and various other civic groups. The Singers have sung Christmas carols for people in nursing homes, for shut-ins, and at the Consumers IGA grocery store. Christmas caroling at the Sheerar Center is also a yearly highlight.
Currently, there are 40 members in the Stillwater Community Singers, and we are always looking for new members. If you have a love of music, please consider joining us. We’d love to have you. Rehearsals are held on Thursdays in the northeast room of the Stillwater Community Center. The mixed chorus meets 6:45–8:15 pm; the women’s chorus meets 8:15–9:00 pm.
Judy White sums it up nicely – “We enjoy singing with each other. We like each other, and we like singing the kind of music we present at each concert.”
1) “Stillwater Civic Chorale Forming,” Stillwater NewsPress, August 14, 1994
2) “Stillwater Community Singers celebrate 25th anniversary,” Stillwater NewsPress, April 18, 2019
3) Past programs
4) Personal interviews