Inside a tiny room at the Roxborough Leverington Presbyterian Church, a dozen singers, a conductor, and a piano accompanist squeeze into a tight circle and wail into the night.
The group of musicians make up the Roxborough Male Chorus, a choir that’s been around for nearly 90 years. The 16-member group is belting out classics like Carol of the Bells and Ave Maria in preparation for their 88th annual Christmas concert in December.
Musical director Pasquale Montenegro also runs the Kelly Street Male Chorus and says that singing in groups helps to blend voices so that more experienced singers and novices alike can take pleasure in the process.
His wife, Lauren Motenegro–a soprano– will be a special guest soloist to provide a “spark” at the concert.
A women’s auxiliary was created for the chorus long ago–but Earl Cunningham, who has been involved since the 1960s, says that, after a while, the women drifted away as members passed on.
A native of Roxborough, Cunningham says he’s been involved since the 1960s and even met his wife singing in a chorus. He says that, at one time, membership swelled to 50 men, but those days are long gone.
“Right now we don’t have any younger men but back back in the earlier days, in the 1950s and ’60s we had boys from high school also singing in the chorus, but there’s no chorus in the high schools anymore so we don’t draft any singers from there,” he said.
Alan Ankeny of Mt. Airy, the president of the club, says that most of the men are retired and the choir performs at local senior homes in the area, which, he says, is still a challenge.
“The older we get our voices aren’t quite as good, and so you have to keep working at it,” Ankeny said.
Due to a declining audience and waning membership, the group’s future is uncertain.
The costs for running the operation are slim, only the director and pianist are paid positions–but still Ankeny says concert tickets and modest member dues are hardly sustainable.
Still, Ankeny says it’s what he loves to do and, after five years as a member, he sees more music in his future.
“It helps to energize me and I believe that it helps keep me mentally fit and emotionally fit,” he said.
And the musical bug seems to run in the family.
Ankeny’s daughter Kayla Ankeny sings in a philly-based all women’s chorus called Svitanya that performs only Eastern European folk songs in traditional dress. They’ve performed locally at the Kimmel Center and regularly in the tri-state area.
“She’s a better singer than I am,” he quipped.
But Montenegro says that for even the chorus to still exist is an accomplishment.
“I consider myself very lucky–in this economy even city orchestras have been closing,” he said, citing the Philadelphia Orchestra bankruptcy, and adds that he has high hopes for the future.
Organizers say all are welcome to join the chorus.
The winter concert will be held on Dec. 10 at 3 p.m. at Leverington Presbyterian Church. Tickets are $10.