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Camaraderie, dedication secrets to Irwin Male Chorus' longevity

| Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014, 9:47 p.m.

The Irwin Male Chorus recently commemorated its 100th anniversary, and members say the secret of the group's longevity is camaraderie from their shared dedication to music.

“It is a brotherhood. These men will do anything for you. I consider them colleagues and personal friends,” said chorus director Forrest Moore, 62, of Scottdale.

The group rehearses every Monday night for one and a half hours in Greensburg. Members come from all around the area, but the name remains the same because it was founded in Irwin on Oct. 8, 1913.

The chorus held its first sacred choral concert in January 1914. Today, the group continues to perform sacred choral concerts during the fall and then switches to Christmas music for shows in December. During the spring, members prepare a variety show including secular music and Broadway show tunes.

PJ Spires, 31, of Mt. Pleasant has served as president of the Irwin Male Chorus for three years. “I went to the spring chorus shows growing up as a boy. I always looked forward to them,” Spires said.

Now, as a member of the group, Spires has a better appreciation of all the hard work that went into the shows.

“The variety show is fun, but it is a huge undertaking. We build our own sets, make the costumes — everything,” he said.

After a big celebratory concert to honor the 100th anniversary last spring, the choral group will take a break this year and resume the popular variety shows in 2015.

Spires is one of the youngest members of the group, with the very youngest being newcomer Nathan Rall, 16, a high school student in Jeannette. Both were music students of Moore when he taught in the Southmoreland School District.

The oldest member of the group is Jim Drylie, 88, of Irwin, who joined in 1957 after serving in World War II and attending college. It is fitting that he also is the group historian. Drylie meticulously has collected boxes of photos, nearly 2,000 articles about the chorus and every concert program book from performances over the 100-year history.

John Jeffries, the second-oldest and longest-term member, joined the group in 1962. He travels from his home in Gibsonia to rehearse in Greensburg nearly every week. Other members, such as Marty Gogol, make the chorus a multigenerational, family affair by recruiting sons and grandsons to sing.

“There is a lot of talent in these men, and they are extremely dedicated and serious about the music,” Moore said.

While most members have some kind of musical background, they are not professional singers. There always is an atmosphere of fun in the group, starting at the annual corn roast in August to kick off each year, members say.

Cindy Kunkle, 55, of Donegal is the piano accompanist for the chorus and its only female member. Kunkle has been with the group for 12 years and considers all the men to be family. “They treat me as one of the guys. Everybody cares for each other and it's just an amazing group of people,” she said.

While Drylie's ailing knee has kept him from playing tennis, he has no intention of giving up the Irwin Male Chorus.

“It's been one of the two main hobbies I've had during my life,” he said.

Yokim is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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