October 21, 2014

Cheers! to 30 years of the most fun in music

The Wilton Singers celebrate 30 years. —Gretchen Yengst

Any get-together with the Wilton Singers is an orchestration of energy, enthusiasm, fun and laughter. It’s a quality that you can feel in their concerts and, if anything, it’s grown deeper and better over the past 30 years. It’s because every one of the Singers, from the pure young voices of the newest members (in their 20’s) to the sure, mellow voices of those in their 70’s, simply loves to sing.

Two of the couples, Jan and Ed MacEwen and Al and Jan Galletly, who established the group back in 1983 are still going strong. Ed has been set and lighting designer for every production. He says that singing with others “opens the door to your soul. With solos, you’re right out there, but in a group like the Singers, you have to blend, you’re a part of a much bigger sound.”

The 30th Anniversary concert on May 10 and 11 will be a program of songs from the last three decades, popular ballads, classical music, Broadway show tunes, a musical retrospective that looks ahead to at least 30 more years of beautifully blended choral singing. The Singers credit most of this, not to their amazing talents, but to the skillful, sensitive teaching of their musical director, Patrick Taylor.

Beth Mason, who’s been with the group since 1991, feels that “learning the music is as exciting as the performances. Patrick Taylor hears everything and when we’re rehearsing, we’re totally engaged in what we’re learning from him.” Mr. Taylor’s background includes a degree in music education at the Hartt School of Music, a master’s degree in Conducting from the Eastman School of Music. He was choral director at Wilton High School for 10 years and is director of choirs at Greenwich High School. Among many awards and appearances, he was guest conductor at Avery Fisher Hall.

Patrick Taylor says that he knows of no other group that has such a great range, from the most serious music to pop tunes. “Rehearsals are exciting because they’re all striving for excellence and there’s true bonding. They all care for each other.”

Being a Wilton Singer is a total commitment. First, there are auditions and two-hour rehearsals every week. If you miss two rehearsals, you can’t be in the show. For the concerts, which are usually in the WEPCO complex, off New Canaan Road, singers do everything besides sing. The spring and Christmas concerts are cabaret-style. There’s dining beforehand, and the tables must be set, the room decorated, all the preparations and details of production are done by the Singers.

Wilton Singers Rick Francella and Kathy Caprino, backed by the group, rehearse with music director Patrick Taylor (at right). —Gretchen Yengst

Wilton Singers Rick Francella and Kathy Caprino, backed by the group, rehearse with music director Patrick Taylor (at right). —Gretchen Yengst

The fact that it all turns out to be fun goes back to the original concept of the founders. “We said we were going to sing and party, “ Al Galletly recalls. Sure enough, after every rehearsal, the singers eat, drink, joke, and laugh. Singer Annbeth Lattimer says: “Someone in the audience told me ‘You look like you’re having so much fun!.’ ‘We are!,’ I said. And even though there’s a big diversity of ages and we come from 11 different towns, we’re like a family. When I think about it, I realize this is one of the most important parts of my life.”

Jean Caffey has been president of the Singers for 11 years. She emphasizes that every singer has an additional responsibility to make each concert a success. “Besides singing, I’m the overall operational manager and put all the pieces together.” Her daughter Sarah and son David are among the youngest Singers. “Everyone except our music director, is a volunteer. “We’re sustained by sponsors, the community’s generosity and ticket sales.”

One of their proudest traditions is that they offer two $1500 scholarships every year to graduating Wilton High School Seniors who have demonstrated music leadership in the a Wilton High School choral department.

Even the newest Singers quickly appreciate the unusual camaraderie of the group. Rick Franchella, 23, teaches second grade in Greenwich. He says: “It’s an amazing experience. I’ve sung all my life, but since I’ve been teaching, I’ve had very little time, and it’s so much fun being around singers again, especially since Patrick Taylor was choral director when I was at Greenwich High School. Though I’m new, it doesn’t feel like that. Once you start singing, it feels like everyone is the same age.”

The May 10-11 Spring concert: “Cheers to the 30 Years” is at the WEPCO Complex, 48 New Canaan Road, Wilton. The invitation says: “Bring a picnic dinner. Doors open at 7 p.m., Concert begins at 8. For more information, see www.wiltonsingers.com.