Brown County
Community Choir

by Chris Gustin
photo by Chris Gustin

If you have an open calendar on Monday nights, an interest in vocal music, and can carry a tune, you can have a seat in Nashville’s only community singing group. Oh, and “It helps to be able to read music,” says director Ray Laffin.

Founded in January, 2003, the Brown County Community Choir is comprised of a core of dedicated, unpaid people who love to get together and raise their voices in song. There are no arduous auditions required to join, and all voice ranges are needed and welcomed to the friendly group.

Most of the concerts presented by the choir in its four-year existence have been to benefit selected people or groups: Habitat for Humanity, Mother’s Cupboard, churches, families who have lost their homes to fire, and to raise money for school band uniforms.

They have also taken part in the community hymn sing, “Spring for Art,” the pre-fireworks concert in July and the county fair. One concert in 2005 included a memorable solo performance by Kristine Stout from the Joybell Theater in Nashville playing 37 handbells.

The choir’s usual repertoire includes sacred and secular, patriotic, folk, show tunes, and gospel. An audience favorite at a recent concert was “Cabaret,” complete with feather boas, and a rousing rendition of “This Land is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie. For an upcoming concert, songs include “How Can I Keep from Singing” and “Lover of the Children.”

Most songs are in four parts: soprano, alto, tenor, bass, but occasionally Laffin will throw in something different, like a men’s chorus of “There is Nothin’ Like a Dame” or barbershop numbers. “Four Old Men”—Joe Ridenour, George Warner, Phil Farlee and Bob Becker—delight the audiences with their close harmony.

The community choir is an off-shoot of the community band, which began practices in 1999 and is also directed by Laffin. Under the Brown County Community Music, Inc. organization, the two groups sometimes perform together, working on the same song separately and then bringing the groups together at performance time.

Although retired from 35 years of teaching music, Laffin’s community involvement has not waned. He received the 2006 Service Award from the Brown County Community Foundation and is active in the Lions Club. During practices, Laffin is part-time stand-up comic, entertaining the choir with stories of teaching high school band or the joys and perils of raising and showing Abyssinian cats, which his wife, Judy, does.

Members of the choir come from many backgrounds and levels of ability and include church choir singers and directors, business owners, retired military, school teachers, bankers, engineers. They all have one thing in common—they love to sing. Laffin would like to see the choir gain additional voices, especially tenors and sopranos, to get a more balanced group. To achieve this goal, Laffin says, the choir needs members with a dedication to making it a more musical organization. Brown Countians and residents of other counties are welcome to drop in and check out the group.

Donna Von Schriltz, who serves as the choir’s president, is also vice president of Brown County Music, Inc., a non-profit parent organization for the band and choir. She hopes the non-profit will be able to encompass other groups in the future, like a children’s choir or a jazz band, and will allow music to grow in the county. The non-profit is also in place to benefit the high school music and theater programs.

“I’ve always enjoyed singing and have been with the choir since it started. It’s been a very rewarding experience and I’ve met many new people who share my love of music,” Von Schriltz said.

Janet McCallie serves as accompanist for the choir while her husband, Jim, sings bass.

The choir has two scheduled performances at St. Agnes Church in November. At 7:00 p.m. on November 11 the choir will perform to benefit Mother’s Cupboard. The community hymn sing will be held on November 19. The annual band and choir Christmas concert is set for 7:00 p.m. December 16 at Brown County High School.

The choir practices at the Brown County High School band room every Monday from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. For more information, call Laffin at (812) 988-8768.