September 6, 2022 at 5:04 p.m.
Forever Young singers are Happy Together
A miracle happens when people come together to sing.
That’s how Forever Young singer Larry Sass, of Grey Eagle, feels each time this senior community choir sings.
“There’s nothing unusual about one singer, but when you put them all together, you are part of a miracle,” said Sass, who, along with wife Jan, have been members of this Melrose-based choir three years.
It is fitting the theme for this fall’s Forever Young concert is Happy Together.
The close to 40 members are happy to sing together. Plus one of the songs they will be singing is “Happy Together.”
Under the direction of Bonnie Nelson, singers will present three fall concerts at 7 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 11, at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, 207 East Fifth St. N., Melrose; 7 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 13, at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, 840 Lake Ave., Albany; and 4 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 18, at First Lutheran Church, 304 Elm St. S., Sauk Centre.
They will sing a variety of choral pieces, including folk, pop and traditional themes, audience favorites and delightful surprises.
The concerts are free, but attendees are encouraged to bring a free will donation and an item for the food shelf.
Choir members come from many communities in central Minnesota and range in age from their 50s to their 80s.
Dwight Christen, from Albany, has been a member since 2014, after he attended a concert in Upsala and was encouraged to join by choir members Roger and Jean Paschke and joined after meeting with then director Irene Sullivan.
It has been a perfect fit for Christen because he loves music. It compliments his performances with the Albany Community Band and drum playing with other band members at assisted living facilities and nursing home.
He likes the challenge of singing different types of music.
“It keeps your mind working,” said Christen.
He said they have dedicated singers and a dedicated director in Nelson.
“She’s not a hard driver but you have to pay attention and have patience,” Christen said.
Sass said Nelson’s experience directing choirs allows her to understand when and why people are struggling.
“Bonnie knows how to listen not only to the music but to the people,” he said. “She knows how to help fix what’s wrong without belittling anyone.”
Sass said singing with the group is great because everyone is there because they want to be.
“We all know how to have fun,” he said.
Sass figures music has been in his life since he was two years old, when he was in leg braces and wearing a cast and his form of entertainment was listening to music on a record player. He took his first piano lessons at age 7 and was awarded a piano scholarship to attend a music camp when he was “thrust into a choir.”
“It was my first experience singing harmony,” he said.
Sass admits to stumbling on music in the military. It was during a special church ceremony when he suddenly found himself directing a choir and the congregation, because nobody practiced how to stop the singing when the procession ended.
Moving from Oklahoma to Minnesota, he and his wife joined the Grey Eagle Community Band and then the Forever Young singers, a happy, go-lucky group.
It is that fun atmosphere that Karl Meyer, a farmer from Meire Grove and one of the youngest members of the choir, loves. Nelson nudged him to join, as the two sat next to one another as members of the Meire Grove Community Band.
“She played trombone next to me, and I told her if I get rid of the cows, I might want to check it out. I’ve been in the church choir for years and she needed a bass,” said Meyer, who joined two years ago.
Meyer; Nelson and her husband, Garry; and Jan Pallow all perform with the Meire Grove Community Band and now sing with the Forever Young singers.
June Rutten, of Sauk Centre, is also in her second year as a Forever Young singer, encouraged to join by friend Jan Lieser, a choir member. Plus, Rutten knew director Nelson.
Rutten brings with her years of music experience dating back to first grade when her teacher encouraged her to lead classmates in a song – “I’m a Little Teapot,” as she recalls. She started taking piano lessons, which led to her playing piano for Masses and eventually she got involved with music ministry as a music director, which she has done most of her life.
She enjoys singing the happy and upbeat music Nelson has chosen for the choir to perform these last two years. Singing with what she calls a “talented group of people with older voices,” is a plus.
“Bonnie does a great job with everybody. She is very patient,” Rutten said. “And we have fun with it. That’s why I’m singing with them. For years I was too busy to belong.”
As a former church choir director, Rutten said there are similarities and differences directing a community choir.
“I didn’t realize the difference until I joined this choir. It takes a different kind of spirit,” she said.
She loves the simple and meditative folks songs in this year’s concert, including the Korean folk song “Ahrirang,” a Swahili folk song and a Newfoundland fisherman song.
“There are different cultures represented in this program,” she said.
Rutten loves sharing her passion for music, like many of the Forever Young singers.
“If you are happy, it tells on your face,” Sass said. “It makes the music more enjoyable.”
Forever Young singers performing together are something special – a music miracle.