Lifestyle

Woodstock Community Choir experiences 'whirlwind' of growth

Embraced by the community for its unique performances, the growing Woodstock Community Choir has truly become Woodstock’s community choir.

The city adopted the choir last year as it officially became a nonprofit group, and the group quickly has transformed into a town fixture.

Expanding this past year from 33 to 55 members from throughout McHenry County, the choir – know for the tagline “Building community through song” – rehearses and performs at the historic Woodstock Opera House.

“We’re not a traditional choral group,” said artistic director Cassandra Vohs-Demann, who created the choir in 2015 based on interest she’d seen from people throughout the community. “The concerts are completely different than you would normally see with a traditional choral group.”

How different? The group has covered songs by Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and other legends of rock. An upcoming concert themed “Shine: Songs of Empowerment, Growth and Belonging” will feature hits from Broadway, rock and pop from artists such as Pink, Coldplay, Josh Groban, Cyndi Lauper and Mumford & Sons.

They’re songs both entertaining to perform and watch, Vohs-Demann said.

“People see our concerts and how much fun everyone is having onstage,” she said. “We’ve had people come to a concert and join after seeing the choir.”

The next concert will be at 3 p.m. Jan. 26 at the Woodstock Opera House, 121 Van Buren St., Woodstock. Admission is free, but the choir is seeking donations. For information, visit woodstockcommunitychoir.org.

As the group has grown, so has its needs. 

Members no longer fit on the choir’s risers, which only can accommodate about 30 people.

New, larger risers not only will benefit the choir but the Opera House, as well. The risers be housed at the Opera House, allowing the venue to draw larger choral groups in the future, Vohs-Demann said.

“It’s kind of been a whirlwind,” Vohs-Demann said of the choir’s growth. “It’s not been that long since the whole thing started, but it’s been one of the coolest things in my career to see how it’s grown. It’s really been a pretty amazing thing.”

When people ask her how the choir took off so quickly, she often responds, “I’m not really sure … but we have a great community here that supported it, and that’s probably the bottom line.”

The city has stood behind the group since its beginnings, Woodstock Mayor Brian Sager said, and since has sought ways to include the choir in various festivities and events, such as the recent Lighting of the Square. 

Formally adopting the choir as part of the city, similar to the way in which the Woodstock City Band is supported, seemed only natural, Sager said.

“They’ve been performing in almost a volunteer capacity for the last two years and have shown to be a very strong vocal group that provides quality musical performances,” he said. “We’re very pleased to have them.”

Open to anyone age 16 and older, the choir draws many members who haven’t sung since high school or college, such as the choir’s marketing chairwoman, Kristen Babchak of Crystal Lake. 

Babchak often travels from her work in Arlington Heights to rehearse with the choir weekly, having joined after searching for area community choirs online.

“Singing is just part of who I am,” said Babchak, who performed from third grade through her freshman year of college. “When I stopped, I just kind of missed performing.”

As part of the Woodstock Community Choir, she said, she has both learned as an artist and found a family.

“It’s very ‘Come as you are, and we’ll work to be better and just have fun,’ ” she said.

Along with her volunteer work with the choir, Vohs-Demann records and performs as a solo artist and owns A Place To Shine Music, a home studio in Woodstock where she provides training for singers, songwriters, educators and other creative artists.

The Woodstock native first gauged interest in a community choir in 2014 by hosting singalongs in Woodstock.

The first event drew 45 people, and the momentum hasn’t stopped since. Every obstacle along the way somehow has been overcome, Vohs-Demann said.

“It feels like people want a place to belong, and it’s created community in a way that I never anticipated,” she said.

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