North Fork Chorale: Still singing 75 years later

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Lois Ross, left, leads the choir at a practice session of North Fork Chorale.

When Lois Ross steps up to lead North Fork Chorale singers in three performances this weekend, she’ll be carrying on a 75-year-old East End tradition.

It started in 1936 when the Southold Town Choral Society began meeting at the home of Dorothy Lehr in Southold for light dinners, followed by practice sessions in the town clerk’s office. Former Mattituck High School music teacher Walter Williams is credited with founding the group, and today chorale members give a scholarship to a graduating senior in Mr. Williams’s memory.

April 28, 1936 was the date of the first performance at Mattituck High School. But it wasn’t until 1969 that the group incorporated under the name North Fork Chorale.

In a Suffolk Times story about the chorale’s 50th anniversary, Aurelie Stack wrote: “The purpose of the group has remained the same through the years: to get together to sing for the enjoyment of it.”

Ms. Ross said she expects almost all of the 43 song-loving members to appear in this weekend’s performances.

“We used to be the only game in town if you wanted to sing,” she said. There are no formal auditions, but usually someone interested in joining has attended performances and has a sense of whether they can master the music.

Occasionally, someone is told not to sing very loud, long-time member Ada Horton said. Chorus membership has ballooned as high as 80 over the years, but most of the time there are between 40 and 50 members.

For the pleasure of singing, members pay $30 in annual dues and chorale president Linda Eckert leads the effort to bring in contribution to pay costs for music rights, insurance, printing and other fees associated with the concerts.

“It hasn’t been terribly hard to raise money,” Ms. Eckert said.

Singers come and go as their schedules allow and that makes it a challenge for Ms. Ross who starts her preparation for the group’s concerts not always knowing what voices she’ll have to work with for the spring and Christmas concerts.

“I have to choose all my music before I know who’s going to show up,” Ms. Ross said. Typically, she identifies a theme for her programs and selects possible music. Within a short time, her dining room table is filled with selections and she’s regularly pulling out some songs and putting in others she thinks will be a better fit. For the spring concerts, she wanted music that reflects the group’s history — classical, operatic choruses, madrigals and even an occasional Broadway tune.

Friday, April 29, 8 p.m. Southold Presbyterian Church
Saturday, April 30, 8 p.m., Mattituck Presbyterian Church
Sunday, May 1, 3 p.m., Orient Congregational Church
Tickets are $10 available from chorale members or at the door

Editor’s Note: Read more about North Fork Chorale in the April 28 issue of The Suffolk Times.