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Raising Voices in Song

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Springhill Choir Director Lorraine Vitt

If someone had told Lorraine Vitt five years ago that one year later she’d be directing a choir in front of an audience of more than 100 people, she would have laughed out loud.  Yet soon after moving to Springhill with her husband, Hillert, that’s exactly what happened. Now, she looks back with pride over her accomplishment as director of the Springhill Choir, an 18-member group that performs twice a year at the community.

She’s not sure how Activities Director Sandy Buckley heard about her musical background and decided to approach her about reviving the choir when its former director stepped down. She does know that her initial reaction wasn’t exactly positive. “Honestly? My first reaction was ‘no,’ ” Lorraine laughs. “It sounded like a lot of work and I wasn’t sure if I could do it. It took a lot of persuasion from Sandy.”

But any doubts about her abilities surely disappeared at the choir’s most recent concert, when a packed room clapped and joined in the sing-a-long numbers Lorraine has incorporated. “We had to go find more chairs,” she recalls. “I think word has gotten around that this is really something worth hearing, and now friends and relatives come.”

Although Lorraine, 88, was a novice when it came to choir direction, a wide range of musical experiences accumulated over the years helped prepare her for the role. “For 26 years, I was chairperson of the Erie Music Teachers’ Scholarship Program, where I created the set of rules they use in their audition and selection process,” Lorraine says. “So I did have a good deal of organizational experience.” In addition, Lorraine taught piano from her home for many years after graduating from Northwestern University with a musical education degree.

Yet, Lorraine is still a bit surprised that she agreed to do something so out of character. “I used to find it difficult to speak in front of an audience,” she points out. “I’ve overcome that, now.”

One of the most positive aspects of her role, she notes, is the way it challenges her. Finding music that’s appropriate to the choir’s voices can be difficult sometimes. Our voices aren’t always as strong as they used to be, so you need to adapt the range of songs to factor that in,” she notes.

Additionally, Lorraine comes up with two musical themes per year for the spring and holiday concerts. Most recently, the choir performed selections from well-known musicals such as “The King and I,” “My Fair Lady,” “The Sound of Music,” and “Oklahoma.” To brighten the program, she also brought in a local soloist, soprano Claudia Skerlong. “I knew it would be uplifting for the audience and the choir to hear such a beautiful voice,” Lorraine explains.

Uplifting is the word she uses to describe her time with the choir, as well. “I like to learn new things and I’ve learned an awful lot through this process,” she says, describing the choir members as extremely dedicated and very nice to work with. She’s particularly indebted to her “excellent” accompanist Vienna Cocuczi. “I’ve gotten to know many more people than I probably would have. Even though it can be hard work at times, I really enjoy it.”