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posted: 4/25/2017 2:21 PM

Meet the grandfather and grandson who sing together in Elgin Master Chorale

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  • From left, Elgin Master Chorale music director Andrew Lewis with members Matt Stone and Gordon Muirhead. Stone is Muirhead's grandson.

    From left, Elgin Master Chorale music director Andrew Lewis with members Matt Stone and Gordon Muirhead. Stone is Muirhead's grandson.
    COURTESY OF ELGIN MASTER CHORALE

  • The Elgin Master Chorale will celebrate its 70th anniversary with a performance of Brahms' German Requiem, the first work the chorus performed in 1947 as the Elgin Choral Union.

    The Elgin Master Chorale will celebrate its 70th anniversary with a performance of Brahms' German Requiem, the first work the chorus performed in 1947 as the Elgin Choral Union.
    Courtesy of Elgin Master Chorale

 
By Stefanie Dell’Aringa
Daily Herald correspondent

On Sunday, April 30, the Elgin Master Chorale will perform Brahms' Requiem at the Elgin Community College's Blizzard Theater. According to Elizabeth Niemeier, chorale executive director, "It's a gorgeous piece that can overwhelm you.

"Someone said 'it's like being washed over with sound,'" Niemeier said. "I liked that description."

For Gordon Muirhead, 71, of Plato Center, the Requiem will wash over him with a flood of memories. The first time he sang it with the group -- then called the Elgin Choral Union -- was 32 years ago, a memorable day for he and his wife, Jill, a soprano in the chorus. They were eagerly awaiting the delivery of their twin grandchildren -- Matt and Kristy Stone.

"During the dress rehearsal, Jill went out to check in and sure enough, we had twin grandchildren born while we were rehearsing," Muirhead said. "That's the story."

Coincidentally, one of the twins -- Matt Stone, 32, of Lockport, will be singing the Requiem with his grandfather in the chorale. Stone, a tenor, joined the chorale last semester, inspired in part, by Muirhead, who sings baritone in the chorus.

"It was pretty funny when we found out that the Requiem was going to be this spring, which coincided with the one that happened when I was born," Stone said. "I had never heard that story until I joined the group."

Stone grew up with a rich musical education under the tutelage of his grandparents. He took piano lessons from his grandmother and sang in a gospel choir in college.

"We'd always be singing or taking some kind of music lessons from them," Stone said.

Now, he'll be able to sing with his grandfather. And the group means a lot to Muirhead as well because that's where he met his wife.

"We had never talked, but we met at one of the get-togethers for beer and pizza," Muirhead said. "We met in September or October and married in February and that was over 33 years ago."

Although Stone's grandmother is no longer a member, she may decide to rejoin the group at any time.

"A lot of our members go through seasons of life; they take a break for whatever reason, but a lot of them keep returning because they just love the experience so much," Niemeier explained.

Currently hovering around 90 members, the chorale performs two or more concerts per year. This year, the group is celebrating its 70th anniversary. It is the longest running performing arts group in the Fox Valley.

The group will mark the event with a fundraiser in June to hopefully raise $7,000 in honor of the 70th year. Money raised will be used to pay musicians who accompany the concerts.

"It's $220 per musician, each time they come," Niemeier said. "So for one dress rehearsal and one performance, it's $440 per musician."

For those interested in attending the fundraiser, archival pieces will be displayed, including the first program when the group performed -- you guessed it -- Brahms' Requiem. That's why it was a simple choice to select the six-movement work that premiered in 1868.

"That piece is really tied to our identity as a choir," Niemeier said. "It's really regarded as one of the most beautiful pieces of music to come out of that time in history."

The Elgin Master Chorale has a rich history. It was formed in 1947 out of a union of community church choirs in the area, which is how it got its original name, Elgin Choral Union.

"A lot of our members are longtime members, and the longest standing member has been in the group for 49 years," Niemeier said. "They've acquired so much in the way of archival material, so we thought it would be fitting to gather that."

Members of the chorale range in age from 17 to 89, with most living in the Fox Valley area. Anyone can audition, and rehearsals are held once a week on Tuesday evenings. The chorale recently added a children's chorus, a group of 22 kids that will be performing the first 20 minutes of the Requiem. The concert will be accompanied by the Elgin Symphony Orchestra.

For Muirhead and Stone, the concert will be a celebration not only of the 70th anniversary of the group, but a birthday celebration as well. Niemeier said she was thrilled to receive an email from Muirhead in December of 2016 telling her the story about Matt's birth and how the two of them would be singing the Requiem together.

"There's something really exemplary at the idea of having family members sing together, and that Matt was coming into the world during that concert," Niemeier said. "It's a wonderful example of how music really enriches our lives."

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