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Giving The Gift Of Music: Columbia Falls Community Choir
Montana Senior News, June/July 2014
When Ron Bond started the Columbia Falls Community Choir (CFCC) some three decades ago, he had no idea how far reaching this gift would be. The choir launched with 37 singers and now includes over 100 voices melding in eight-part harmony. People come from as far as Fortine, an hour’s drive away, to participate with Flathead Valley residents in this beloved volunteer coalition. And so far, the trend of more singers wanting to join shows no signs of abating.
Initially, Ron believed CFCC would mostly benefit audiences. He figured area residents would enjoy hearing live music as well as seeing friends, neighbors, and family perform sacred and secular works. That has not changed. But what has changed is the realization that this choir has been equally meaningful to those standing on stage.
Experienced singers are grateful for the opportunity to showcase their talents with the public and unite with others who share their passion for song. But the biggest surprise for Ron came not from those musicians who can hit high C or low D but from the newcomers who had never before sung in a chorus or learned the difference between a sharp and flat.
As one fledgling choral participant commented, “man, I never knew I could do this.” Another singer, whose son has Downes Syndrome, hesitantly asked if his son could join the choir. To his amazement, Ron welcomed him.
“That dad was so excited just because we let his kid sing,” recalls Ron, who taught music in Flathead schools for over 40 years.
While many choral directors hold auditions and require singers to read music, Ron took a different approach from the start and has never regretted his decision. His only requirements for membership in the CFCC is the ability to carry a tune and willingness to attend as many rehearsals as possible.
“Half of the choir can’t read music. But they are there because they want to sing. And they can sing and learn their music really well. Our goal is to have fun and you do that by doing things well. We won’t be perfect but we strive for excellence,” states Ron, who grew up in Walkerville and graduated from Rocky Mountain College. “If you work really hard to do the best you can do, I accept that.”
When selecting concert scores, which can take a year or more, Ron chooses music by how it is arranged and how complicated it is to learn.
“I go for a little bit of everything—a mix of classical, jazz, religious, and show tunes. I want the program to challenge those who can read music but not be impossible for those who can’t,” he explains. “When the group works hard and finally gets it, it’s a great thing to know they have accomplished something.”
So, what makes singing in a 100-person choir different from singing in the shower or at a worship service? Why do people drive 50 miles to practice sessions held weekly and semiweekly through the winter?
“It’s a teamwork thing. Some of these people have never been part of a team before.There’s also an equality,” states Ron, who counts doctors, lawyers, housewives, schoolteachers, high-schoolers and octogenarians among the CFCC’s ranks along with a long list of his former music students. “There is every profession you can name represented. We have a city within ourselves.”
In thinking about why he has led the CFCC for all but four years’ of its existence, Ron says, “I believe everybody owes something to their community and that we should try to do something for others. I may not be the best at what I do, but I’m capable and willing to do it.” He is quick to add, however, that he is only one cog in a very big musical wheel. Credit goes to numerous others who assist with the behind-the-scenes preparation needed to pull off annual events of this magnitude.
“This choir is like a big family. I’m the director but I don’t do all the work. We have an incredible support team to handle the scheduling, finances, and refreshments. Plus, we have a super accompanist,” adds Ron, who feels that singing in a community choir is a particularly good avocation for retirees.
“I can’t throw a baseball or play basketball anymore,” he admits. “But I can sing and that says it for a lot of people, many of whom are former athletes.”
Each year, CFCC gives two spring performances at Columbia Falls High School and a summer concert at St. Richard’s Catholic Church. In between, the troupe entertains residents at nursing homes and independent living centers. The general-audience spring concerts definitely have grown in popularity. When people had to be turned away at the auditorium doors on Saturday night because no more seats were available, Ron introduced a Sunday afternoon concert, which now fills up. But it is the visits to older Americans that have touched Ron’s and the singers’ hearts in an even deeper way.
“They made us who we are and they don’t get a chance to hear things like this,” says Ron. “We owe tons to our senior citizens and the chorus feels the same way. We see the expressions of joy or tears on their cheeks and how they clap in appreciation. As one man at the Veterans’ Home told me, ‘I love good music and this is so well done.’ They see it as special and we do it to have it be special.”
If you can carry a tune and would like to join the CFCC, phone Ron at 406-892-5174.