BRATTLEBORO -- Like so many others before him, Tony Lechner quit his day job to pursue his rock and roll dreams.
Only his dream is a little different.
A couple of years ago, Lechner moved on from 17 years of teaching music in middle school and high school to found the Valley Rock Choir, a unique multi-generational and multi-state singing group whose repertoire is the songs we grew up with.
Founded in the Hadley, Mass., area in January 2012, the Valley Rock Choir established a northern branch in Brattleboro in September 2012. This year, it added a branch in Springfield, Mass. Combined, the Valley Rock Choir has rocketed like a song up the charts from 37 members initially to a powerhouse ensemble of 130 singers.
And that's what local audiences will hear, when the Valley Rock Choir, 130 voices strong, unites for a concert in Brattleboro on Friday at 7 p.m., at Centre Congregational Church, 193 Main St.
Audience members will hear these singers in a program of familiar rock anthems and some lesser-known rock and pop gems, arranged for four parts by Lechner and accompanied by a four-piece rock band.
"The power of all the voices, it's just incredible," said Lechner, speaking before Monday's rehearsal of the Brattleboro contingent at the Vermont Jazz Center. "It's powerful and exciting. "
On Saturday, the Valley Rock Choir will continue its rock and roll tour at Sweeney Recital Hall at Smith College in Northampton, Mass., at 7 p.m.
The choir's repertoire includes songs by Peter Gabriel, XTC, Eurythmics, The Beatles, The Turtles ("Happy Together"), Foo Fighters, Fleetwood Mac, KT Tunstall and more. Last spring they did a whole show in tribute to Queen.
What prompted Lechner to quit his day job was a passion for rock and roll and a firm belief that a group singing this repertoire fit a niche not filled by other groups in our singing-rich region.
"I felt there was a lack of contemporary singing opportunities for adults," said Lechner. "We sing songs from the ‘60s to the present, not traditional choral music. We're not doing Brahms here.
"We're more like a rock band with lots of singers than a choir," he added. "These are songs that these people grew up with."
Even choral groups that do occasionally throw in a pop song or two, do so as a break from their usual repertoire or as a lighthearted moment in a concert. With the Valley Rock Choir, rock and roll is seriously front and center, sung straight up and with the aim of getting at the powerful heart of the song.
"We're treating it not as fluff. The music isn't second rate. We're treating it like serious music. We're treating it like classical choirs would treat Mozart," said Lechner.
Part of what gives the songs their righteous edge is that the Valley Rock Choir is accompanied by a legit four-piece rock band. These concerts feature guitarist Ross Bellenoit, known to many from his days with the Sweetback Sisters (and a former student of Lechner's), plus Jaron Olevsky-Abercrombie, Andrew Lederman and Jon Fisher.
Whatever makes it work, the singers seem to have a ball.
The Valley Rock Choir has singers from just out of college to well past 60 and is open to all men and women. There are no auditions.
"Since it's everyone's music, I felt like it should be accessible to everyone," said Lechner. "So many people can sing much better than they think they can. Our motto is ‘If you can sing it in the shower, you can sing it with us.'"
And cutting loose on a good old rock song, seems to be pretty good for the soul. The group's mission statement is "Healing ourselves and others through song."
Concerts typically include raffles and other fundraisers for local causes. Proceeds from these efforts at the Brattleboro show will go toward organizations serving the homeless, Lechner said.
Singers are welcome to join. The spring session starts Feb. 3, focusing on songs with a theme of "Sun, Earth and New Beginnings."
"It's fun, and it's making a positive change in the world," said Lechner.
For more on joining, visit www.valleychoirs.com.
Before then, come check out the group at its concerts Friday in Brattleboro and Saturday in Northampton. Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for students and seniors and free for children under 12. Advance tickets are available locally at Turn It Up!, Everyone's Books and www.brattleborotix.com.