South Shore Community Chorus begins another season of singing open to all

By YVETTE C. HAMMETT

SUN CITY CENTER − Tim and Kris Neldner met in the band at the University of Tampa about 40 years ago.

These days, they spend some of their leisure time performing with dozens of others in the South Shore Community Chorus − and they love it.

The chorus, formed in 2016, performs two seasons each year, one encompassing Christmas and the other Easter. All are welcome.

While most members have previous singing experience, it’s not a requirement, said Amy O’Hara, who has been involved since Day 1.

She and her buddy Melissa Chandler were chatting online one night, and Melissa happened to mention how much fun it would be if there was an adult choir around.

The South Shore Community Chorus started in 2016. The group performs two seasons each year, for Christmas and Easter. | Photos from South Shore Community Chorus

Three days later, Brian Nesmith, the East Bay High School choral director, posted online to see if anyone was interested in an adult choir.

“It was completely random,” O’Hara said. “Melissa went to high school with my sister, and we just happened to be talking. We were both in chorus in school.”

And that was that.

As for the Neldners, they just happened to meet Doug and Doreen Westlake – Doug is now the choir director – and got together for dinner one night.

“We were singing hymns around the piano, and they said, ‘Hey, you guys can sing,’ and invited us to the choir,” Kris Neldner said.

This is the Neldners’ second year in the chorus.

For the second season, Doug Westlake, a former East Bay High choral director, is again on the podium. He has chosen a very eclectic variety of music for the chorus, including “The Water Is Wide,” “Ding-a Ding-a Ding,” an a cappella piece, and “A Million Dreams,” from the musical “The Greatest Showman,” along with some traditional Christmas music.

“I like that because it keeps the audience interested,” said Betsy Short-Nieves. “It also gives us different things to try.”

Like last year, Short-Nieves brought along her boyfriend, Donovan Russo, who had no previous singing experience.

“It just feels good to sing,” Russo said. “And I like singing bass and just blending in.”

As for the music, he said he doesn’t recognize a single piece, but he is looking forward to getting rehearsals in gear.

Ryan Holting, who was also at the first rehearsal, said he first came with friends with whom he was in the East Bay chorus during high school.

“It is absolutely amazing,” Holting said. “It is a great getaway on a Monday night after a crazy Monday at work. I had a music scholarship but went with business, and I really missed it.”

The magic of the community choir is that those involved sing “solely for the joy of making beautiful sounds together,” O’Hara said.

It is a shoestring organization and nobody’s getting paid, she said. “We just rehearse, then sing twice a year at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church, where we also practice.”

Rehearsals are from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. each Monday at the church, 1239 Del Webb Blvd. W. in Sun City Center.

The choir has about 45 members on a regular basis, including some snowbirds who will join once they arrive.

“Some sing at other places,” O’Hara said. “Melissa sings with Sing Out Tampa Bay,” a community chorus that performs with The Florida Orchestra. “An enormous number of people sing in other churches.”

“We are all a bunch of grown-up choir geeks who missed it. When you get back to doing it, you realize it is something you really miss. It’s the cheapest therapy you can find.”

O’Hara says there are studies that show that when a choir sings together, members’ breathing and heart rate sync.

As there’s no worry that someone with little singing experience might miss some notes, O’Hara said: “We just know we have to sing louder.”

For information on the chorus, click here to visit the group’s Facebook page.

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