Swan song: Bicentennial Choir to close out 200-year celebration


More than 40 voices will come together to present 15 songs, including religious and patriotic tunes and a couple of numbers honoring the Hoosier State.

Jan Willey was asked to invite local church choir members to be a part of the Bicentennial Choir to close out this weekend’s Jackson County Bicentennial Celebration at Freeman Municipal Airport in Seymour.

The first rehearsal had only about 15 people, but with some more work, Willey was able to bump the number up to 40. During a recent practice, a few more people showed up.

At 2 p.m. Sunday, they will all gather to entertain people attending the once-in-a-lifetime celebration.

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Willey said she remembers the sesquicentennial celebration 50 years ago, and she said she thinks the bicentennial is just as important for people to honor.

“It’s going to happen once in our lifetime,” she said. “I was here at the last one 50 years ago. I was only a freshman, and we were all in that stuff. It was big, and you didn’t realize it in 50 more years, it was going to happen again. Here it is, and how often is it going to happen again? People should get out and be a part of it. It’s part of our heritage to keep that going.”

Sunday’s show will feature 11 songs performed by the whole choir, and there will be four soloists.

Willey asked the Bicentennial Planning Committee of Jackson County what it wanted the choir to do, and then she was able to select the appropriate songs.

Religious songs were chosen because the choir’s performance is on a Sunday and a church service is set for 11:30 a.m. that day.

Songs such as “Back Home Again in Indiana” and “On the Banks of the Wabash” were included because of the state, Jackson County and Brownstown celebrating 200 years.

“It’s just stuff that I think people would enjoy and (the choir members) have to enjoy singing,” Willey said.

The choir will perform for about an hour and a half, and the celebration’s closing ceremony will follow at 4 p.m.

Willey said someone from the bicentennial committee asked her last year about directing the choir. That was just a few months before she retired after 40 years as the choral director at Brownstown Central Community School Corp.

During planning discussions, she recalled the big production conducted 50 years ago that featured 250 Brownstown residents. That told the story of how Indiana became the 19th state in 1816 and went all the way through modern times. A man and his wife who were directors from New York City coordinated the production.

Willey was able to find the script for that show, but it would have required a lot of work and time to do something similar this year.

“I just thought about it all last year, and I thought it would be neat to have a big community choir perform,” she said. “I thought I could get enough Brownstown church choir members together and come up with a real nice program to do, so that’s what we did.”

Willey sent out letters inviting people to the first practice during the first week of August.

But with school starting around that time and other things going on, only 15 people showed up.

Willey then sent out more letters and received a better response.

As the rehearsals continued each Wednesday night at Brownstown United Methodist Church, the number of members reached 40.

Most of those people are members of eight churches in Brownstown and Vallonia, ranging in age from 16 to 80s.

“You’re working with adults. You’re working with people that like to sing, people that can read music,” Willey said of what she has liked about directing the choir. “They wouldn’t be here if they didn’t want to do it. I’m not making anybody do it.”

The choir will rehearse for the final time Thursday night to get ready for Sunday’s big show.

Sandy Sunderman of Dudleytown said she is excited about the choir’s performance.

“I enjoy singing, and the music selection is awesome, very, very good,” she said. “A lot of fun songs, a lot of serious songs, a lot of thought-provoking songs.”

Sunderman said she has led the choir at Vallonia Christian Church since 1975, so it will be nice to be able to sing and let someone else do the directing. Nearly half of the 14-member choir at her church is a part of the Bicentennial Choir.

“I was a part of the sesquicentennial, and it was so much fun, and the bicentennial is so much fun,” she said. “I know I won’t be around for the next one, so I’m just really looking forward to it all.”

John Spurgeon of Brownstown said he has been in choirs for most of his life, including church choir since he was in middle school. He also sings patriotic songs at the town’s annual Memorial Day ceremony at Fairview Cemetery.

When he found out about the Bicentennial Choir, he knew he wanted to be a part of it, too.

“All ages, and you’ve got congregations coming together,” he said. “You don’t get that very often.”

The Brownstown Christian Church member said he also participated in the sesquicentennial 50 years ago. He remembers a presentation at the courthouse, a performance by the high school band and a parade.

Now, he gets a chance to be a part of the bicentennial celebration.

“It’s just a group of different singers that get together because it’s usually a group that you know,” he said. “This, you get to know different people, too. It’s just the camaraderie and time to share.”

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What: Bicentennial Choir performance during the Jackson County Bicentennial Celebration

When: 2 p.m. Sunday

Where: Freeman Municipal Airport, 1025 A Ave., Seymour

Who: More than 40 members of churches in Brownstown and Vallonia performing 15 songs under the direction of Jan Willey

Cost: Free


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