Singing group ‘Choraleers’ succeeds with golden touch

David Osborne

One of Evanston’s oldest singing groups differs from Melodious Thunk, Purple Haze and all other music groups at Northwestern in a major way.

“All of the members are over the age of 55,” said Evelyn Benz, director of the Choraleers, which held auditions for two spots Friday afternoon.

Benz began the a cappella, dance and comedy troupe 18 years ago at the Levy Senior Activity Center, 1629 Chicago Ave. The group now has between 16 and 18 members.

“It started because the center wanted more musical programs for members,” Benz said. “It’s been a hit ever since.”

When Jean Stein retired as a secretary with Counseling and Psychological Services at NU, she began visiting the senior center. Coming in with some previous singing experience, Stein now has been a soloist for four years.

“This is therapy for all of us,” Stein said. “A lot of us are in our 70s. Many are widowers, and others are ill. But for an hour or so every week, we can all forget. Music is therapy.”

The group, which practices on Fridays from 10:30 a.m. to noon, has performed at retirement homes, the Catholic Women’s Club and most recently at the North Shore Hotel. Their most recent concert raised $2,500 for a new senior center which will begin construction in the near future. The group will be performing their next show Oct. 21 at the Wilmette Public Library.

Dianna Sangalis said she heard about the Choraleers from an Evanston friend who sings with the group, so she decided to audition.

“I like the vitality and the directness,” Sangalis said. “The director from what I’ve seen is quite professional. True showmanship.”

An experienced performer, Sangalis picked apart her audition afterward.

“Knowing myself, I could have done better with practice,” she said. “(The director) could hear the prettiness of my voice and the range. But the two most important things are proving I won’t overpower the other singers and also that I can sing on key. They said they’d get back to me.”

Shelley Wagner has sung and performed a comedy routine with the group for the past five years.

“We have a lot of fun, but Evelyn insists that we are professional,” said Wagner, a former NU professor. “We really put on a good show.”

“This is such a wonderful diversion, and they absolutely love performing,” said Benz, who graduated from NU’s School of Music “sometime in the ’50s.”

While some members have singing experience, the Choraleers was a first for Viola Burkhart when she joined 18 years ago.

“When I started, we just got together and sang,” said Burkhart, who at 83 is the oldest member of the group. “But now we perform all over. It’s very exciting.”