Director asks locals to come out, join chorale

— Those who initially harbor second thoughts about enrolling in Christel Houston's class will likely walk way from the first day of class with a different attitude about their decision.

Houston directs the Columbine Chorale, a vocal course offered by Colorado Mountain College's Alpine Campus.

Many people who sign up for the class, which runs during the fall and spring semesters, boast of no musical background.

"I have people who come and say, 'I can't sing at all,'" Houston said. "But I usually find that they can."

People willing enough to try out the choir for the first time find they enjoy the experience and return for more, she added.

"There are people who just really feel like they cannot sing, but they come and they have a blast," she said.

Several of Houston's students, such as Sherry Sullivan, come back every semester to sing with the choir.

Sullivan said she decided to first enroll in the course in the fall of 1998 despite her lack of chorale experience.

"It was something that I had always wanted to do but never had the time or made the time," she said.

The 2002 spring semester of the Columbine Chorale will mark her ninth enrollment in the class.

Sullivan encouraged anyone mulling the possibility of singing with the Columbine Chorale to put aside their insecurities and join the group.

"If you can carry a tune, you can do it," she said.

The first class of the spring semester begins at 7 p.m. Tuesday and runs from 7 to 9 p.m. every following Tuesday at the United Methodist Church of Steamboat Springs.

The weeks of practice culminate with a concert at Steamboat Springs High School on April 26.

Choir members differ in age, profession and musical experience, but they all become Houston's students on Tuesday night.

"We're all just regular community people," Houston said. "There are no professionals or anything."

The Steamboat Springs Arts Council first organized and sponsored the Columbine Chorale before CMC began offering the community the chance to sing for college credit, said CMC community education director Olive Morton.

Today, the Arts Council still co-sponsors the choir, but students pay tuition to help defray the costs of providing choir members with instruction, music and a place to practice.

The Columbine Chorale can be used as a one-credit elective college course only once, Morton said, but many choose to continue paying the tuition to stay with the choir.

The choir usually averages 30 to 40 people every semester, and CMC has never placed a cap on enrollment, she said.

Houston began directing the Columbine Chorale five years ago after several years of accompanying the choir on piano.

When she assumed the director's position, her husband, Brian, took her place as the piano player.

Houston said she always includes a wide variety of music in the choir's repertoire to suit all singers' tastes.

The spring concert will feature classical pieces by George Frederick Handel and Ludwig van Beethoven, Broadway musicals such as "Fiddler on the Roof" and "West Side Story," spirituals and some jazz.

"It's a real mix of things," she said.

In addition to learning the music, Houston's students learn vocal techniques and breathing exercises that help them to better project their voices and pronounce their vowels.

Choir members receive their own music and a tape of their vocal part that allows them to hear their part if they cannot read music, Houston said.

People can still enroll in the Columbine Chorale until Tuesday at CMC or at the first class.

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