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North Hills Chorale members help light season with concerts

| Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Dona S. Dreeland | North Journal
Tom Koharchik, director of the North Hills Chorale, leads singers practing for their upcoming concert, “Season of Light,” which will be at the Kearns Spirituality Center in McCandless on Dec. 14 and 15, 2013.
Dona S. Dreeland | North Journal
Ruth Ann Keen, Kay Rojik and Eleanor Howe (front row, from left) and (back row, from left) Phyllis Jones, Judy Young and Pat McGreal prepare for the next song during a rehearsal for the North Hills Chorale's upcoming concert, “Season of Light,” which will be at the Kearns Spirituality Center in McCandless on Dec. 14 and 15, 2013.
Dona S. Dreeland | North Journal
Nancy Conley (left) and Sharon Lang (right) practice a song dialogue during a rehearsal of the North Hills Chorale in November 2013. The woman between them is Wendy Aurednik. The chorale's upcoming concert, “Season of Light,” will be at the Kearns Spirituality Center in McCandless on Dec. 14 and 15, 2013.
Dona S. Dreeland | North Journal
Tom Koharchik (left), director of the North Hills Chorale, leads the 47-member group during a rehearsal for their upcoming concert, “Season of Light,” at the Kearns Spirituality Center in McCandless on Dec. 14 and 15, 2013.
Dona S. Dreeland | North Journal
Megan Wodzinski, associate director of North Hills Chorale, plays for the sopranos as they practice for their upcoming concert, “Season of Light,” at the Kearns Spirituality Center in McCandless on Dec. 14 and 15, 2013.

Even if they weren't together, they'd be singing.

Members of the North Hills Chorale are preparing for their Christmas concerts at 7 p.m. Dec. 14 and 3 p.m. Dec. 15 in the Visitation Chapel at the Kearns Spirituality Center in McCandless. “Season of Light” is a blend of secular and religious songs. Under the direction of Tom Koharchik, 47 voices will welcome in the holiday season.

“The chorale is open to anybody who enjoys singing, anyone who would benefit from making music in their life,” said Koharchik, 32, of Harrison Township.

He said he teaches “music for music's sake.”

“The end goal is an entertaining, polished performance,” he said.

Chorale director since 2004, he and the chorale do concerts in December and in the spring and others as they are able. The volunteer ensemble is made up of both young and mature members, whose backgrounds generally include memberships in other choirs.

Koharchik makes the long drive to rehearsals each Monday from Freeport Senior High School, where he teaches general music and directs the junior/senior high choir. As a music major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Koharchik completed his student teaching at Marshall Elementary School in the North Allegheny School District.

Marcia Wielgus, president of the chorale's board of directors, is one of the ensemble's veteran members. The Hampton resident was part of the original group that started at the Community College of Allegheny County's North Campus in McCandless in 1993.

“We're a nonaudition group,” she said, with “retired music teachers, choir directors or church cantors.”

The group rehearses from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Mondays at the Kearns Spirituality Center in McCandless. New members are welcome. Rehearsals for the spring session start in January.

Advertising, fliers and the chorale's website help attract new members.

David Thayer of Franklin Park and his wife, Becky, saw a flier six years ago.

“We're just folks who love to sing,” David Thayer, 54, said.

She's an alto, and he's a bass, and they use the practice concert CD in the car as they travel.

He said the music selections are challenging and that Koharchik is a skilled teacher, taking the time to instruct the members about “style, intonation, pitch and crescendo.”

“We're better as a collective than as individuals,” David Thayer said.

A seven-year member, Mary Jayne Kress of Richland Township has been singing all of her life. With 24 years of choir experience, she's in no hurry to give up her place in the chorale.

“We sing a wide variety of music and have a different program each session,” she said.

While the rehearsals are enjoyable, she also likes watching the audiences during performances.

“We're feeding off their involvement,” she said.

North Hills Senior High School graduate Kathy McKenna of Ross Township had sung in the eighth-grade glee club.

She, too, was one of the original North Hills Chorale members.

“People I knew thought this would be a good fit for me,” she said.

Fourteen years later, she's pleased to have performed at the Wintergarden at PPG Place, Phipps Conservatory, the Carnegie Museums and Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh.

Sue Gibbon of Shaler Township brings years of experience to the chorale. She had belonged to the now-defunct Pittsburgh Oratorio Society for 27 years, and she and a friend were with the Shadyside Chorale Society in Pittsburgh.

“I was desperate to sing,” she said, “so I went online” and found the North Hills Chorale.

That was three years ago. She appreciates not only the director's command of music but also his sense of humor.

“The people are very nice. Tom is very good,” said Gibbon, “and I love singing.”

Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6353.

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