Los Cancioneros--Spanish for the music makers--do it for love.
It's certainly not for money. Not only do they get no pay for singing their songs, but they have to pay $100 a year to be with the choral group.
"We're all amateurs, people in the South Bay area who love to sing," said Mary E. Reiter of Hermosa Beach, an educational consultant who has sung in choruses since childhood and joined Los Cancioneros when she moved to the South Bay 11 years ago.
But amateur is not the same thing as novice, and all of the 35 to 40 people who regularly sing with the group have had musical training. "All are people with good singing voices and like to be in a group that does challenging music," Reiter said. "You audition to get in."
And challenge and variety seem to go with the group, for over the years it has sung the choral masterpieces of Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn and Mendelssohn, along with show music, popular tunes and even a few numbers veering toward jazz and rock--sometimes with costumes and a bit of choreography.
A holiday concert is an annual event, and this year's will be on Sunday at 4 p.m. at the Hermosa Beach Civic Theatre, which has been the chorale's home for the past two years. The major work will be Mozart's "Regina Coeli," followed by seasonal songs about snow. The requested donation is $7.
Los Cancioneros began in 1949 as a small group of singing friends who got together in private homes. As it grew, it began performing in various churches, moving on later to the Norris Community Theatre in Rolling Hills Estates. It then settled into the Hermosa Beach theater where, Reiter said, the "warm acoustics" are ideal for singing.
Chorale members say their audiences also are warm, with 250 to 300 people turning out for each of its four concerts a season. "We've built up a following and have 1,000 people on our mailing list," Reiter said.
Taking Their Talent Overseas
The group has never toured much farther than Valencia or Lakewood, but this will change in June when they go to Europe for two weeks of performances in France, Germany and Austria. The chorale is recruiting singers for the tour, which requires not only a good voice but the ability to pay the estimated $1,200 cost. "We have no trouble getting people to go," Reiter said.
One singer, the Rev. Charles Jones of Wayside United Methodist Church in Lomita, said he is thrilled about the trip. "Every other choral group I've belonged to has gone to Europe the year after I've left," he said. "I've never been."
The singers--among them lawyers, counselors, engineers, accountants and insurance people--generally fall into the 30-to-45 age bracket. But lately, the chorale has been attracting students, whose dues and wardrobe are supplied by the group. "They add a lot," Reiter said.
One is Scott Kasperik, a 17-year-old from South High School in Torrance, who joined last January with encouragement from his voice teacher. "It's really been a great release for me to be able to go and sing with others who love to sing," said Kasperik, who plans to minor in music in college while planning a career in accounting.
Several people said that simple love of singing is what keeps them going to the weekly rehearsals, even when they are tired after working all day.
"I really think the world would be so dull without music and there is something about singing with a group, creating something very beautiful, that is absolutely spine-chilling when it comes together," said Kathy Weebe Crosier, a Manhattan Beach insurance agent who has been with Los Cancioneros for 15 years.
And, she added, it's healthy: "You may have problems at work, maybe personal problems with the kids or whatever, but when you get together and sing, you feel so good. Maybe it's all this deep breathing."
Said minister Jones, a choral singer for 40 years, "It's part of my gratification, my enjoyment, my excitement in life. I do it purely because I love to sing."
The annual dues go toward paying chorale director Lisa Mellor Fitzpatrick, who teaches music and choral directing at El Camino College in Torrance, as well as a piano accompanist. The group also gives student music scholarships and covers expenses of music, printing and theater rental. The singers are their own ticket sellers.
After Sunday, there will be two more concerts this season: an Easter program March 13 at St. Peter's by the Sea Presbyterian Church in Rancho Palos Verdes and a June 4 salute in Hermosa Beach to Irving Berlin, marking the 100th birthday of the Broadway composer.
Rehearsals are mostly hard work, the singers say, and they describe Fitzpatrick as someone who is exacting but who uses humor and, as one put it, "the power of positive thinking."
Los Cancioneros know how to have fun, however. Some go out together after rehearsals or concerts, and there is a Christmas party and a summer picnic.
People find friends and, sometimes, even mates.
Crosier met her husband, Fred, when both joined the chorale at the same time. They became friends, but it was awhile before they started dating. "One of his friends saw me at a concert and wanted my number, and I guess he took a second look and asked me out." With the chorale, they've sung duets together. "We've had a good time," she said. "Music is our life."