BRATTLEBORO >> Bodies wiggle in their seats and heads bob to the beat when America's only community rock chorus in the area, Rock Voices, sings the harmonies of Tony Lechner's arrangements. Clapping is encouraged. A total of 250 community members in the Connecticut River Valley representing southern Vermont and the greater Pioneer Valley gather weekly in either Hadley or Northampton, Mass., West Hartford, Conn., or Brattleboro to rehearse popular rock music from the '60s to today. Collectively they put on three performances a year for each town – January, May and July. In Brattleboro's concert last July they performed songs of the '60s and '70s at the Brattleboro Congregational Church. The highlight of that evening was "Blue Moon" appropriately on the night of a rare second blue moon of the year. Their upcoming January winter concert taking place on Friday, Jan. 8, also to be held at the Congregational Church, will include hits from the '60s right up to 2015, from Led Zeppelin and Simon & Garfunkel to ABBA, Journey, and Beck, and new to the repertoire is Abba's "Dancing Queen." The songs all represent the choir members' personal favorites.
Accompanying Rock Voices is a professional four-piece band whose musicians all have local roots: Ross Bellenoit on guitar, Dan Leary, bass, David Tallarida on drums and Mitch Chakour on keyboards, Chakour has the added distinction of having been the director for Joe Cocker and had worked with Bonnie Raitt. Collectively or in a solo, their instrumental segments never fail to thrill the audience.
Founder and creative director Lechner started Rock Voices five years ago during his tenure as a music teacher for middle school, but he was inspired by how much fun singing rock and roll was and didn't see any other choruses doing just that genre. Since then the membership has grown in leaps and bounds. It grew so much in fact that he quit his day job, allowing him to spend his days with his young children at home, then evenings for rehearsals. Lechner said, "People who think they can't sing don't realize how easy it is to sing in a group and have fun. Everyone is their own worst critic, but surrounded by people just like themselves it is hard to sing out of tune. Together they sound wonderful."
Rock Voices is truly a community chorus under the direction of Lechner, open to people of all ages and abilities. He accepts anyone who wants to join in the chorus with open arms, the only requirement is a love of music and a desire to share their joy with others. For new members he creates disks with their part in the harmony separated out, be it tenor or soprano, so that they may rehearse at home,
Although chorus members usually rehearse in the town closest to them, they are welcome to, and often do, travel to one of the other rehearsals in a different town on a different night to rehearse again because they are all part of the whole group called Rock Voices. Lechner rehearses with Brattleboro's group of 40 members every Monday at the Vermont Jazz Center, with Northampton's chorus of 70 to 80 members on Tuesday, and on Thursday in Hadley, the largest of the groups with 100 to 110 members. The newest group to join is out of West Hartford under the direction of Ramsey Kurdi. It has 20 members.
For Brattleboro's smaller venue the number of singers who could participate in the January concert needed to be scaled back to 120 singers, giving first dibs to Brattleboro's rehearsal group, then first come, first serve with attention paid to maintaining the right balance of tenors and sopranos.
Chorus member Pam Reid who joined in 2014 said, "We love performing at the Center Congregational. It is a small stage and you can see the faces in the audience light up when they recognize a song and start to sing along. And Tony, he is amazing .. and funny."
To hear them in concert on youtube search "Rock Voices Brattleboro" for last July's concert, or do a search for "Rock Voices Barry Manilow" to hear them when 30 members were selected as Barry Manilow's back up chorus for his appearance in Foxwoods Resort Casino last spring!
Lechner said their mission statement is, "Healing ourselves and others," not only because the weekly rehearsals are therapeutic and spiritually renewing, but because they raise money for a local charity at each performance with 50/50 raffles. Last year's winter concert raised money for Windham County Humane Society, this year's 50/50 raffle at the January concert will go to the AIDS Project of Brattleboro.
The AIDS Project of Southern Vermont is a regional AIDS service organization providing direct services to people living with HIV/AIDS and research-driven prevention programs to those at highest risk in Windham, Bennington, and southern Windsor counties. The AIDS Project fills an important statewide role in making sure that Vermont's fight against the AIDS epidemic is strong and effective. All services are provided at no charge to clients and their families. For more information, call 802-254-4444 or visit aidsprojectsouthernvermont.org'"
The concert will take place at Brattleboro's Centre Congregational Church, located at 193 Main Street, on Friday, Jan. 8, at 7 p.m. Doors open at 6 p.m.
Seating is limited, so please order your tickets right away from choir members, at brownpapertickets.com, or available at the door. Admission prices are $15 for adults, $12 for seniors, $8 for students. Children 12 and under are admitted free of charge.