Palm Harbor Community Chorus members hold up a get well sign for Doris Clanton, past board president, who is recovering from an illness. Among the current members of the chorus are, front row, from left, Debbie Legnon, Lynn Stanford, Kate Gendler, Kay Batassa, Rhoda Gold, Peggy Carmichael, Bernice Seigel, Roberta VanBuskirk and Director Anita Bona. In the back row are Joanne Foster, Pat Moore, Fred Batassa, Marge Matson, June Zank, Nettie Glassman, Gail Elder and Colleen St. Lawrence.
PALM HARBOR – In October, many Floridians look forward to the long-awaited arrival of autumn winds, sound of rustling leaves and ushering in of cooler temperatures – reminders that the holidays are just around the corner. For members of the Palm Harbor Community Chorus, the month brings weekly rehearsals for its Christmas program.
In December, the chorus is scheduled to perform five holiday shows at local area assisted living and retirement homes. The group will also perform at the Palm Harbor Library on Saturday, Dec. 14 at 2 p.m. The event is free and open to the public; however, donations will be accepted.
The chorus will sing one Hanukah song and a combination of traditional songs including “O Holy Night,” which is performed every year, along with other holiday favorites “White Christmas,” “African Gloria,” “Silver Bells” and more. At the end of the show, the audience is invited to sing along with the chorus, “Jingle Bells” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”
Lynn Stanford started singing with the chorus in 1983. She said although the number of members has fluctuated over the years, the chorus has brought joy to many people by lifting their spirits and giving them something to look forward to. Stanford, who runs a Sponge Exchange specialty shop on the Sponge Docks in Tarpon Springs, said most of the current 25 chorus members are 60 or older and mostly female. Presently, the chorus has only a couple of male singers, one of whom is a snowbird.
“It would be good to grow the chorus and get some younger people involved,” she said. “We have some awesome members and they are really fun people to be with.”
The not-for-profit group is open to anyone in the community. Many of the members perform or have participated in a church choir but most join because they love to sing.
“They may have a wonderful voice. Or, they may have a voice that’s great for a chorus as a group but not as a soloist, which is important because we can’t all be divas,” Stanford said.
The Palm Harbor Community Chorus was created in 1983 by Ernie Pirro who moved to Palm Harbor from Massachusetts prior to 1983. He was an active member of the Greater Palm Harbor Area Chamber of Commerce and also founded the Rotary Club of Palm Harbor.
One night, Pirro had a dream about opera and music coming to Palm Harbor. He told the director of music at his local Presbyterian church, Brian Anderson, about the dream. From that vision, the Palm Harbor Community Chorus was formed. Anderson led the chorus as director for many years. Pirro died in the mid-1980s and has been memorialized at “Pop” Stansell Park at the Ernie Pirro Pavilion.
The chorus is led by director Anita Bona, who has a master’s degree in music from the University of Massachusetts. Bona, 64, is a music teacher and also music director for St. Giles Church in Pinellas Park. She moved to Largo almost nine years ago and volunteers at Clearwater Marine Aquarium on day a week.
Bona is originally from Connecticut, where she grew up. She is a pianist and has played in churches since she was 16. She raised her daughter in New Jersey as a single parent and later adopted her adult nephew, who had lost both his parents.
Bona has worked mostly in churches teaching music. She said people ask her if she will ever retire and she says probably not.
“Not as long as I can see and my hands work,” Bona said. “Music is something that is part of your life – it’s a part of who you are.”
Bona has directed the chorus for the past eight years. She researches songs and finds a theme. This year’s special program includes music from the 1950s, crooner songs made popular by Bart Howard, who wrote “Fly Me to the Moon,” and others.
She laughs and reminisces about Frank Sinatra.
“It is a representative style of the 1950s,” Bona said. “The crooner songs make the ladies – the little old ladies – swoon.”
Bona plays the piano during the shows as well as turning sheet music. And, she directs the singers from the keyboard. “You lift one hand and you nod your head a lot,” she said.
Bona plans two shows a year, a special program and the holiday program. “I find a theme and whittle it down to about an hour’s worth of music,” she said.
The special program is performed in the late spring and fall. It may also overlap the new program, which starts in January, and is performed for the public at the Palm Harbor Library in May.
This year’s program also showcased folk medleys from the 1960s, such as Bob Dylan’s “Blowin in the Wind” and John Denver’s “Leavin On a Jet Plane.” The show included the hootenanny sing-along “This Land is Your Land.”
In years past, Bona has directed shows based on movie shows, movie themes and Broadway productions. Each year, the chorus performs about 16 shows. The women wear black pants and shirts with fancy mesh beaded, gold collars. The men wear black ties, white shirts and black pants. During the holidays, the men don a Christmas tie.
“Many of the members have been with the chorus for a number of years. They’re dedicated,” Bona said. “We don’t have auditions; all we ask is that you love to sing. The mission of the chorus is to spread joy through song.”
She said some of the chorus members are quiet people while others are very flamboyant. One couple has been married for over 50 years. During the show’s introductory song, they “jitterbug” their way into the performance, dancing to “Rock Around the Clock.”
Another member, Nettie Glassman, 85, has been with the chorus for more than 10 years.
The chorus has rehearsals every Tuesday from 7 to 9 p.m. (except during the months of May to August) at the Crystal Cove Community Church in Palm Harbor.
The chorus is looking for new members. Auditions are not required. The chorus would also like to perform at church festivals, dinners and bazaars.
For more information about volunteering, call Bernice Seigel at 939-2951. Call Arlene Shaw at the same number to schedule a show.