Mendelssohn Club’s “healthy and honest” harmonies

Shahara Benson mechanically straightens her posture before skimming the nearly one-hundred person audience in front of her. 

She balances herself with her left hand clutching the spine of a black binder that contains her lyrics, while the other grasps the side of a page, fully prepared to flip it without hesitation.

She sucks in a deep breath, widens her eyes, and bellows out a unapologetically loud, concretely hallow and delicately smooth sound that vibrates thoughout the chapel at Philadelphia University’s Ravenhill Mansion. The soothing sound shudders around the chapel until it fades with the replacement of another sound. 

For once, the 27-year-old assistant kindergarten teacher doesn’t have to worry about lesson plans, or paying back a student loan or doing her taxes. For once, Benson can belt out a powerful medley with no regrets. 

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“We’ve done almost every single requiem known to man,” Benson said “I love that! I have such a good repertoire of music from this group.”

Benson is among 15 others who came out Sunday night from Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia, a chorus of locals who volunteer their time and talents for the delight of those who come to hear them sing. 

The chorus performed on Sunday evening at the chapel at the Ravenhill Mansion on the Campus of Philadelphia University, in part, to raise money for the group.

“Our tickets are usually $25.00. But if ticket sales covered our expenses, alone, they’d be close to $125.00,” Executive Director Janelle McCoy said.

The club has been carrying out tunes for nearly 140 years, and McCoy touts it as a public service group.

“The arts touches everyone’s lives, it reaches something for everybody,” McCoy said. “We all speak and use our voices, and singing is universal.”

About 150 singers perform roughly four concerts a year, although they also work for paid concerts, as well.

This particular setting at Philadelphia University was especially intimate. Before heading into the chapel, audience members wined and snacked with the singers in the school’s Ravenhill Mansion.

Engaging its audience has been a theme this year, says its artistic director, Alan Harler, and the chorus chimed a handful of songs while standing in the midst of its snacking audience.

“We are a symphonic chorus that does master works, and we love doing that,” he said.

Harler has been the group’s artistic director for 22 years, and recently, he’s been encouraging pre-concert dialogue among the audience and chorus.

The group’s former music director from 1965 to 1977, Robert Page, says its innovation is just one reason the club is a musical organization to be reckoned with in Philadelphia.

His favorite part of the group, he says is simply, its sound.

“They have a healthy sound. There’s an honesty in it, and it’s not tampered with,” Page said. “I love the way it takes chances with repertoire. If you don’t get to the edge of the cliff, you don’t know where you’re gonna go with this music, and Alan does that. It’s fabulous.”

In an effort to connect audience members to the group’s music and 150 singers, the group is offering the crowd a chance to perform through chanting, acting and body percussion at 4 p.m. on Feb. 27 at 123 S. 17th Street.

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