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Irwin Male Chorus to perform songs representing each of 10 decades at spring concert

| Monday, April 29, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Jim Drylie, right, rehearses with the Irwin Male Chorus on May 3, 2012 in the Science Hall auditorium at Westmoreland County Community College in Youngwood. Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
Forrest Moore conducts a rehearsal of the Irwin Male Chorus on May 3, 2012 in the Science Hall auditorium at Westmoreland County Community College in Youngwood. Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review

For 100 years, singers from across the region have joined to harmonize in the Irwin Male Chorus, which will perform songs representing each of 10 decades at its annual spring concert this weekend.

In the audience will be perhaps the choir's biggest fan: Bill Hodge, who has attended every spring show for more than 60 years.

Hodge of Greensburg said he and his wife, Dolores, saw the show on a date decades ago and have continued coming back as a “tradition.” He estimates this will be their 65th concert by the choral group.

Jim Drylie, 87, has been a member of the chorus for more than a third of its century of singing. The choir's longest-serving active member, he joined the group in 1957.

The chorus began in October 1913 when several churches held an annual baseball league banquet and invited men from church choirs to perform.

“These guys that were in this choir thought it went over so well that they should form a male chorus,” said Drylie of Irwin.

In January 1914, the chorus of 70 men debuted its first concert of mostly religious music, later picking up stage performance.

The chorus started in Irwin, but members now hail from across the region, said director Forrest Moore of Scottdale, a retired South­moreland School District music teacher.

This year's performance, “A Century of Song,” celebrates the choir's long history.

“They've picked music from each decade to represent the decade,” Drylie said.

That ranges from World War I songs like “Over There” and Beatles hits. It includes “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” and a jaunty rendition of Kool & the Gang's “Celebration.”

“There's enough music from each decade that I'm sure most people would like most of it,” Drylie said.

The group of about 22 men has been practicing since January for the two-hour show, said member Larry Newlon of Hempfield. Two performances will be held in Westmoreland County Community College's Science Hall theater.

“The spring show's the big one,” he said.

The show features trumpets, a trombone, a baritone horn and a clarinet along with a four-piece pit orchestra consisting of a keyboard, drums, guitar and bass. It includes a touch of humor.

“There's quite a bit of comedy, and we're going to dance a couple of times. And that's comedy, believe me,” Newlon said, laughing.

The group performs “sacred concerts” at churches during the fall, he said.

Membership in the chorus dropped in the late 1990s, but it's added about a dozen members since then, Newlon said.

“(And) in World War I and World War II, they had a number of members in the service,” Drylie said. “They had a lag as far as membership, but they were still able to continue. They were still able to have the sacred concerts.”

The chorus has an educational element, Drylie said. Many of its members don't have formal music training, he said, but they pick up information from the directors.

“It's been a really wonderful hobby for me and an activity that I've met a lot of good friends,” he said. “We sort of call ourselves a brotherhood.”

Rossilynne Skena is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6646 or rskena@tribweb.com.

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