By Sarah Freedman, Contributing Writer
Northborough – The Assabet Valley Mastersingers, a chorus based in Northborough, will be ringing in the Christmas season Sunday, Dec. 11, with a rousing performance of selections from the “Messiah” oratorio by George Fideric Handel at Trinity Church in Northborough.
In the true spirit of the holidays, the performance will include audience participation. The chorus has sung this composition every season since 1980, and it has become a tradition for the surrounding communities.
Alto singer Alene Cole from Hudson is an original member of the chorus from Hudson.
“It is a part of their tradition,” she said. “Everyone sits in sections according to part.”
Clergyman and author Henry Van Dyke once said, “The woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best.” For the Assabet Valley Mastersingers chorus, a group made up of 70 singers aged 18 to 86, this philosophy is especially true.
Dr. Robert P. Eaton of Boylston founded the nonprofit group in 1978. It is funded in part by the Greater Worcester Community Foundation and the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Back then, there were only 28 members and running the choir was “very much a bootstrap process,” according to Cole. She said that the singers had to borrow robes for concerts, and the soloists and organists came from the choir itself.
A lot has changed for the Mastersingers since the group has over doubled in size, features guest soloists and has a modest stipend for accompanists. Currently, the chorus has members from Bolton, Boylston, Clinton, Hudson, Marlborough, Northborough, Shrewsbury, Southborough, Stow and Westborough, as well as many others.
The one thing that has stayed the same is the philosophy of diversity and equal opportunity to sing together. The group still relies on the support of volunteers and sponsors for tasks such as organizing and setting up for concerts.
“We depend a lot on people stepping up,” Cole said.
Eaton, Cole explained, is an important part of the changes. As an educator, he directed the choral program at Algonquin Regional High School for many years and is the current minister of music at First Baptist Church in Lexington.
“A lot of the growth and changes are attributed to the background of Eaton,” Cole added.
She praised his “energy and vision and basic philosophy of learning.” Cole said he taps into new challenges for the chorus in the music they perform.
“Bob Eaton is a consummate educator who has a special knack for setting challenges for us – always with the firm belief in the quality of the end result.”
Cole noted that the chorus is democratic when it comes to parts and that it is “distinctive” because of the varying backgrounds of the singers. Some singers come from church choirs, she said, while others studied music and have music degrees.
The greatest reward she gets from being in the choir is learning new music and the friendships she has made.
“Primarily, it [the reward] is the allure of the continuing learning process, the excitement of finding increased confidence in tackling vocal challenges and being exposed to such a variety of wonderful choral literature,” Cole said.
According to soprano Paula Adelson of Marlborough, who has sung in the chorus for seven years, participating in the chorus is about giving back.
“I feel so blessed to have a voice to give back to people,” Adelson said.
“We sing such diverse music – beautiful, diverse music,” said Stanley Tanenholtz, a tenor from Southborough who has been in the choir for over 20 years.
Eaton said he founded the Mastersingers for a simple reason: there was a need for a chamber choir in the area.
“At that time [in 1978], there were not a lot of choirs doing this type of music,” he said.
He added that the choir performs major choral works that people would otherwise have to travel to Boston to hear. Eaton called the Mastersingers a “tremendous outlet for the vocalists.”
“The group has grown tremendously,” he said. “It's the opportunity to perform good music and be a part of community that sings.”
The “Messiah” performance in particular is special for Eaton, whether people come to sing or just listen.
“It's a real community thing,” he said. “This is an opportunity for a night to come and sing.”
“This is a wonderful way to celebrate the holidays,” Tanenholtz noted.
The Assabet Valley Mastersingers will perform Handel's “Messiah” Sunday, Dec. 11, at 3:30 p.m. at Trinity Church, located at 23 Main St. in Northborough. There is no admission, but donations are welcome. For more information, visit www.avmsingers.org.