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STANTON : It’s a Dream Come True for Ill Singer

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Deb Comer, a terminally ill resident, has returned from a two-week expense-paid trip to Russia, during which she fulfilled her dream of singing “The Messiah” at concert halls in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Her fondest memories of the January trip with the Cypress Masterworks Chorale, however, are of friendships made and several spontaneous vocal events: She sang “Hotel California” in a snowy street with a couple of language students and crooned a Kenny Loggins tune to 12 Russians who are reviving long-banned religious songs.

Comer, 41, is disabled and cannot work because of scleroderma, a deadly skin and internal organ disease. Doctors say the disease will harden her internal organs and kill her within a decade.

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She has sung soprano with the chorale for 11 years but did not have the $2,500 she needed to accompany the group on its trip to Russia.

Scores of people responded to an October article about her in The Times Orange County Edition, sending her letters of support and enough money for the trip.

Comer and her companions in the Cypress Masterworks Chorale were also featured in a McDonald’s commercial, filmed by a Russian crew in the Moscow restaurant.

Comer said the chorale was well-received. “We were warned ahead of time that the Russian people are very reserved--they would not be whistling and yelling like we do here,” she said. “But the audience loved it, and they gave us a standing ovation.”

“They clapped forever!” she said.

The chorale also traveled four hours from Moscow to the small town of Vladimir, where they met a group of men who are reviving religious songs. Under the Soviets, religious music was banned.

The Americans were invited to the fledgling group’s rehearsal. Through a translator, Comer was told that the Russians sang the Lord’s Prayer.

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After the rehearsal, Comer and her group responded by singing the Halleluiah Chorus from “The Messiah,” “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” and other carols.

“Then different people started playing the piano,” Comer said. She sang Kenny Loggins’ song “Heart to Heart.” A friend sang an Italian aria.

“We all started talking and trying to communicate with the guys when we finished,” Comer said.

One of the singers wrote his address for Comer on the back of a hand-copied piece of Russian religious music. “It’s not like they have copy machines available like we do,” Comer noted.

Also in Vladimir, Comer and chorale group member Dean Chance were once eating in a small restaurant and seated next to two Russian men.

“I gave Dean the phrase book and said, ‘Good luck,’ ” Comer recalled, laughing.

The men turned out to be students of English at a language institute and were glad to practice their speaking skills. They introduced themselves as Konstantin and Ed.

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The four left the restaurant together. Snow was everywhere and the moon was bright, Comer said. “We started singing ‘Hotel California,’ ” she said. “And these two guys knew all the words.”

“Dean sang a few of the words the wrong way, and Konstantin stopped him and told him the right words, and they started again,” she said.

Comer plans to write a book about the trip and her struggle against sclero-derma.

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