Van Bloem Singers ensemble does it 'for love'

Amid the carolers and choruses who will volunteer in local holiday performances this month, one longtime group offers what they hope will be something a little different.

The Van Bloem Singers plan to entertain with relatively modern Christmas music and show tunes at seven locations this month, continuing what musical director Elaine Paonessa believes must be at least 20 years of community service.

VIDEO GALLERY: The Van Bloem Singers performance at the Broadview Residential Care Center in Glendale

“Over the years, we’ve performed for them, and they’ve just kept having us back,” said Paonessa, 86, who is also active in the Burbank community. “I’m going to go as long as I can.”

The group was originally formed as the Burbank Civic Light Opera, but membership dwindled and it disbanded until it was resurrected as the Van Bloem Singers.

In years past, their holiday performances have been more frequent, numbering as many as 15. Their overall membership has also been higher, falling from a peak of about 16 to 10, excluding the pianist and Paonessa.

But membership calls have been made periodically, and the singers continue on, eager to share their musical talents in venues such as club fundraisers, senior residences and healthcare facilities, where audiences are treated to a wide variety of song selections.

“They always get the ’20s or the ’30s or the popular stuff,” Paonessa said, “but we like to bring something to them in the form of musical theater.”

Members perform in a concert style — they do not dance or stage scenes — adapting songs from the likes of George Gershwin and Cole Porter, as well as from Broadway shows, in typically 45-minute to hourlong performances throughout the year.

Their seasonal songs will include lesser-known numbers like “It’s a Marshmallow World” and “Christmas in Killarney,” rather than the traditional songs so often heard on the radio, said Mark Nudelman, who has sung with the group for about 10 years.

“We pack a very rich program,” Nudelman said.

The singers in the ensemble, which is named in honor of the former Burbank Civic Light Opera musical director Paul Van Bloom, vary in age. Many are retired.

The youngest member, 23-year-old Brenna O’Neal, joined about two years ago and performs in between her shifts as a nurse, she said. Following in her daughter’s footsteps, O’Neal’s mother, Teri, who is also a nurse, began singing with the group last year.

“All of the people are very fun in their own quirky little ways,” O’Neal said. “It’s a fun little choir, and I’m glad I found them”

All except the pianist perform without being paid, happy for the opportunity to sing and entertain.

As Paonessa likes to put it: “We do it for love.”

This year’s holiday performances include appearances at the Burbank Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center, as well as at the Scholl Canyon Estates in Glendale.

-- Emily Foxhall,

Follow on Twitter: @emfoxhall.


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