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West Newton Community Singers to 'celebrate music'

| Wednesday, May 8, 2013, 7:48 p.m.

“Celebrate Music” with the West Newton Community Singers this spring.

Now in its 37th season, the community chorus is rehearsing for its concert at 7:30 p.m. Friday that will feature popular sounds of the past and present that are fine-tuned to audiences of all music preferences.

Richard Carson, of Jeannette, has been directing the 15-member group since 2006.

“For the May concert, we'll have music from the Sound of Music by Rodgers and Hammerstein, which is familiar to people and almost everybody can sing the songs. It is refreshing to hear different arrangements of those songs,” said Carson.

“We'll also be doing some Stephen Sondheim music, which is very popular in the newer realm of showtime music, and a medley from Les Miserables.”

Carson, also a choir director at First Christian Church in Charleroi, said selecting music for a concert is one of the most difficult decisions in planning for an event.

“It is a two-fold experience,” said the director. “One would be to find music that would be within the ability of the singers, and the second, when we perform it, that the audience will be familiar with it in some respects, but not all, and enjoyable enough that they will feel some attachment to the songs.”

Originating as the Spirit of ‘76 Singing Society for the community's observance of the nation's bicentennial celebration, the West Newton Community Singers are a diverse group of people who hail from the local town as well as from areas such as Charleroi, Herminie, Sutersville and Madison. They range is ages from the 30s through the 70s.

Once numbering 50 members, the group has slimmed considerably in size but, according to one longtime member, has gained in quality.

“No doubt, we are better now,” said Karen Peto, of West Newton, group secretary and a 30-year soprano singer. “We are able to go over everything with a fine-tooth comb. We are better able to polish the act.”

Peto said the fate of the singers went into crisis mode a few years back when membership took a sharp drop, but loyal singers vowed to endure.

“I probably continue to do this for the love of music,” said Peto, whose husband Terry sings tenor for the chorus. “I'm kind of a backbone for the group. A few years ago we lost several members for various reasons, and we just decided we were going to continue no matter how many members we had. We are only 15 members, but we are quality.”

Three members of the charter group still sing today. They are Jane Medsger, Marcy Roseman and Marianne Carlson, all local residents. Stanley Materkowski of West Newton is one concert short of charter membership.

Materkowski, who sings tenor, agreed his passion for good music and the camaraderie of the group has kept him involved.

“I was asked to join by another member after the very first concert and I've been hooked ever since,” said Materkowski. “I've been raised on good music and it's a good venue for me.”

Materkowski recalled two of his most memorable concerts with the singers.

“About 25 years ago we sang the Messiah from the beginning to end and that was just such a beautiful composition,” said Materkowski. “And in 2011 I had a chance to sing a solo for my mother a day before Mother's Day and that was very special to me. She had never missed a concert in 35 years.”

Patricia Murphy of Hidden Valley is the group's accompanist.

In addition to a spring concert, the West Newton singers perform an annual Christmas concert at West Newton United Presbyterian Church, at the West Newton Community Festival's opening night and at the town's Memorial Day observance at the community's cemetery. Their performances have included instrumentalists and dancers.

Years past they sang at Linden Hall in Dawson at Christmas time.

“When we had more members we could put on a good show if only half showed up,” said Peto. “Now if half showed up, we couldn't do it.”

The singers have also changed their appearance in the last decade. “We (ladies) used to wear blue dresses, then mauve gowns, but we started wearing black and white (outfits) in the 1990s,” said Peto.

In addition to revenues from concert admissions, the community singers collect $30 annual dues and solicit local merchants and organizations for donations.

Last year, they held two successful fundraisers, both lasagna dinners at Gary's Chuckwagon in West Newton.

“We run on a really tight budget. We don't waste a cent,” said Peto.

Peto said expenses include salaries for the director and accompaniment, liability insurance, sheet music, replacement of worn music books and printing expenses for concerts.

The West Newton Community Singers practice at 7:30 Tuesday evenings, January through May and September through December, at Christ Lutheran Church. Concerts are traditionally held at the West Newton United Presbyterian Church, although they have performed at the First Baptist Church, First United Methodist Church, West Newton Elementary School and the local gymnasium in the past.

Interested singers, age 16 and older, are invited to join the group.

“I admire these singers,” said Carson. “It is wonderful to work with a group that enjoys music. You can do so much with people like that.”

Tickets for the 7:30 p.m. concert at West Newton United Methodist Church, Fourth and Main streets, are $5 in advance and $6 at the door ($3 for children under age 12). For more information, call Peto at 724-872-6093 or email at

Colleen Pollock is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.