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San Fernando Valley Chorale Plans 2 Concerts

“It’s almost like a family, and the audience can feel that when we sing,” Margaret Stoddard, a longtime member of the San Fernando Valley Chorale, said of the group. “They can feel that we like each other and there aren’t any prima donnas and jealousy.”

The chorale, which has had its ups and downs in 12 years of existence, is on the comeback trail. Membership, which dipped as low as 20 about three years ago, is at 35.

The ensemble will present its Spring Concert on Sunday afternoon, with a reprise two weeks later, on June 3. The singers do popular music only--no classical--and are firmly in the tradition of dedicated amateur community groups that work hard at their music and perform whenever they can.

For the San Fernando Valley Chorale that means three big concerts a year and far more frequent appearances at retirement homes and before organizations such as women’s and Kiwanis clubs.

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“We get asked back by every group we’ve performed for,” Stoddard said.

Sunday’s show will take place at 3 p.m. at Our Saviour’s First Lutheran Church in Granada Hills, site of the chorale’s weekly rehearsals. The June 3 show, also starting at 3 p.m., will be at First Evangelical Lutheran Church in San Fernando. There is no admission charge for either show, although donations are accepted.

On the program are excerpts from “The Music Man,” “Carousel” and other musical comedies; two older popular songs, “Sweet Betsy From Pike” and “When I Was Single;” three spirituals, “Poor Man Lazrus,” “Dry Bones” and “Don’t Be a Weary Traveler,” plus performances by a women’s trio and a men’s quartet made up of chorale members.

Conrad Immel, director of the chorale for the past two years, believes a public prejudice often hurts attendance at events.

“It’s like pulling teeth to get people to a concert,” he said. “But once they get there they say, ‘Golly, I didn’t know it could be so good.’

“Especially in California,” he added, “if someone is not a professional we tend to think, ‘It’s not worth my bother, they can’t be very good.’ But people are impressed by the quality of our concerts and they generally come back.”

One reason they return, he said, is to enjoy the magic of live music.

“People are so used to having canned music,” Immel said, “especially canned popular music--records, tapes, videos, the radio you play in the car. We give an audience good live music. I believe in the intensity that comes with live music. There is something important between the audience and the singers, a sweat-of-the-brow kind of contact.”

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Although he teaches corporate computer classes for a living, Immel has classical music training. He holds a master’s degree in music and has been an opera singer. He said his background has changed the chorale’s sound, even though all the material still comes from popular genres.

“If you’re a pop musician without any background, you learn from listening to other pop musicians,” he said. “You take over their style, and maybe add a little style of your own. But if you look at music from the standpoint of a classical musician, you shape your interpretation differently. I hope it’s better. I think it is.”

Immel said--and chorale members confirmed--that he works on tone far more than the group’s previous directors.

“He has taught us about music,” Stoddard said.

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San Fernando Valley Chorale’s Spring Concert will begin at 3 p.m. Sunday at Our Saviour’s First Lutheran Church, 16603 San Fernando Mission Blvd. (at the corner of Hayvenhurst Avenue), Granada Hills. Donations will be accepted. For further information call (818) 891-2922.


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