Kutztown Community Choir continues tradition of providing free live music to community

Lisa Mitchell - Berks-Mont Newspapers Kutztown Community Choir director Dick Wagner, seated, with his wife Jean on left and choir conductor Mike Barron and his wife Sue.

As the Kutztown Community Choir prepares for their annual Spring Concert and the 40th annual Flag Day Concert, the choir’s director and conductor celebrate the choir’s history and seeks guest conductors and accompanists to help the choir continue into the future.

Conductor Mike Barron said he wanted to honor the choir’s founder and long-time director Richard Wagner.

“I think by providing no cost live music to the community” makes the choir an asset to the community, said Barron.

“But even more so for the singers,” added his wife Sue, a choir member. “It’s really so meaningful for the singers... coming together every week, and making friends, the camaraderie and enjoying the music. That’s all a ministry in itself. The concert is lovely but that is all important, too.”

The choir began with about 20 members. Today the choir has more than 50 members from Kutztown, Topton, Fleetwood, Blandon, Reading, West Reading, Shoemakersville, Stony Run, Kempton, Lenhartsville, Fogelsville and Mertztown.

“They come from all over to sing. They just love to sing,” said Sue.

“It should be the Kutztown Area Community Choir,” joked Wagner.

“People enjoy singing and it’s a great way to put that talent to use,” said Mike. “In terms of other benefits to the community, the Flag Day Concert is definitely a highlight. I don’t know that any other community has anything quite like that so it’s a treasure.”

The Kutztown Community Choir dates back to its first season in 1967-68.

“We used to have a joint three hour Good Friday Service,” said Wagner. “It was difficult to get musicians to stay for the full three hours so we put our heads together, as they say, and we decided, why don’t we merge things and come up with one choir. If everybody couldn’t stay, maybe enough people could stay and we would have a choir to carry us through the service. That’s the germ for the birth of the Kutztown Community Choir.”

The choir was formed by Dick Wagner, June DeTurk, Jeanne Esser, Rev. Francis Ringer, pastor of St. Paul’s UCC, Kutztown. The choir continued to sing every spring and Christmas with about 20 members.

“We decided maybe we did have a good thing going,” Wagner said.

“Basically, a choir that was created to accommodate the Good Friday Services, which were a combined community event, has now developed into a routine for the choir to have a Christmas concert, a spring concert, the Flag Day Concert and we normally do one event at Kutztown Manor,” said Mike Barron.

The first Flag Day Concert was held in 1975 at the Kutztown Park, for which the choir performed with a Symphonette under the direction of Dr. Frank Siekmann. “We did the type of program we still have (40 years later),” said Wagner.

The current Flag Day Concert features the Pa. German Symphonette under the direction of Dr. Willis Rapp.

Also the Kutztown Rotary Club has been serving as ushers at the concert. Local businesses sponsor the event to help cover the costs of putting on the concert, including payment for the musicians. The choir members are all volunteers. Also, Pat Brown creates the programs and posters for the concerts.

“The concert is a kind of unique service in the community,” said Mike Barron. “I don’t know of many other communities around that have a Flag Day celebration. Besides the patriotic music, we’re lucky to the have the resource of Richard Kelchner who is a flag vexillologist. He brings samples from his flag collection and speaks about them every year. It’s just a wonderful event.”

“His talks are so interesting,” added his wife, Sue. “We want that to continue.”

Kelchner will be bringing U.S. flag from 1815 to celebrate the Kutztown Bicentennial. Also, the American Legion Ray A. Master Post 217 Honor Guard will be in attendance.

“There are people who have kept this thing going. I think without the Kutztown Community Choir there wouldn’t be a Flag Day Concert,” said Wagner.

The choir also sings at community events. Earlier this spring the choir sang at the Reading Royals Ice Hockey game. Also, the choir has been singing at the Community Thanksgiving Service at Kutztown University for the past couple of years. The choir will also participate in the Kutztown Bicentennial giving a concert at the birthday party for seniors during the Bicentennial Week Celebration.

Wagner would also like to have a concert of the choir’s favorites.

“I would like to see a program of favorites of myself and the choir from years past. We’ve done some interesting programs,”said Wagner. One of his favorites is Vivaldi’s “Gloria.” “Things an ordinary church choir would not do.”

Their Spring Concert will be May 10 at 7 p.m. at Trinity Lutheran Church, 357 W. Main St., Kutztown, and the 40th annual Flag Day Concert will be June 16 at 7:30 p.m. at Kutztown Park bandshell. There is no admission charge, but an offering will be received for the benefit of the choir’s music fund.

“Over the years, except for one year (at which time Steven Schwoyer directed) and the last two years, I’ve directed the choir,” said Wagner.

Wagner’s health has prevented him from being able to conduct the choir himself and many of the duties of the choir have been handled by Mike Barron for the past two years.

“We were lucky to have Mike sitting in the choir when we needed someone to take over on very short notice,” said Wager.

“It’s been a good two years,” said Barron. “It is a lot of work and I have to commend (Mr. Wagner) for having done all of that work behind the scenes since the start of the organization. It’s really a tremendous blessing to the community and a great gift.”

Their hope is to find a replacement for the conductor or conductors to help run the choir. The choir is also looking to replace longtime accompanist Greta (Luckenbill) Ertel. Past accompanists include Mildred Corrigan, Christine Leonard, Wendie Rohrbach Spence, Eleanor Focht, Bruce Rohrbach and Jeanne Noll.

For more information about the Kutztown Community Choir, contact Mike Barron at smb25n@hometownu.com.

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