When Lymy Beth Toenies joined the Roseburg Seventh-day Adventist Church choir, she never dreamed that five short years later she would be preparing that choir to perform at Carnegie Hall.
The group will perform in New York City with approximately 40 other choirs from across the country on Nov. 17.
Around five years ago, Toenies was asked to accompany the choir. She instantly recognized they were having trouble harmonizing and began helping.
“Me and my big mouth, I was like ‘where’s your harmony?’ because they were singing all melody,” Toenies said. “I started teaching them how to sing with a harmony and the director asked me to talk over.”
Toenies recognized that all 20 choir members could sing, many of them with years of experience to build upon. Harmonizing together was the first lesson, which must have worked because last year the choir received an invitation from Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) to perform “The Music of Joseph Martin” at Carnegie Hall.
“We have really grown, from a single melody to a full harmony,” Toenies said. “People are able to listen more to those around them and to their own voices. We are one voice now.”
The invitation came out of the blue. In December of last year, the church’s pastor asked Toenies if she had received the email he forwarded. She had no idea what he was talking about.
“I said ‘what email?’ and he said ‘you have an invitation to perform at Carnegie Hall,” Toenies remembers.
She was floored. Never in her wildest dreams had she considered performing in a venue like Carnegie Hall.
According to the press release, the choir received the invitation because of “the high level of musicianship demonstrated by the singers as well as the exceptional quality of their audition recording.”
“These wonderful musicians not only represent a high quality of music and education, but they also become ambassadors for the entire community,” Dr Jonathan Griffith, Artistic Director and Principal Conductor for DCINY said in a press release.
The Roseburg Seventh-day Adventist Church choir will join approximately 275 singers in total. Singers will spend five days and four nights in New York City, practicing nine to 10 hours a day leading up to the concert.
This is on top of the extra practice the choir has already been putting in since receiving the invitation.
Margie Kruse, who has been a member of the choir since before Toenies took over, is excited for the opportunity. She joined the choir because she loved to sing, but never expected it to take her to New York.
“I actually wasn’t going to go but then it just worked out that I’m going,” Kruse said. “I didn’t think I wanted to go to a big city and then I didn’t want to leave my husband for a week.”
The group won her over.
Now, Kruse is looking forward to the performance and the food afterwards. She says the music has seeped into almost every aspect of her life. She listens to it in her car, sings it when she gets up in the middle of the night and even tends to exercise to the beat.
Nancy Worley has also been a member of the choir for years. In fact, she has been singing most of her life.
“I have been a choir person my entire life,” Worley explained. “I was in high school choirs and special groups and a cappella groups. But I’ve never been to Carnegie Hall, never in my wildest dreams.”
Music runs in her blood. Her great-grandfather was a blind musician and her grandfather and mother were piano players. Her son and daughter-in-law, Stephen and Amanda Worley, are members of the choir and will be in New York performing with her.
“It’s fun having a family thing,” Nancy Worley said. “It’s like handing down the joy of music.”
Douglas County will be able to experience that joy when the choir does a repeat performance at 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 21 at the Seventh-day Adventist Church, 1109 NW Garden Valley Blvd., Roseburg.
“My first question when we received the invitation was ‘lord, what have I done to deserve this,” Toenies said. “It’s a very humbling experience that we were given this chance to be able to sing.”