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Lift Your Voices : The county abounds with choral groups. Singers can find their vocal outlet based on musical taste and personal talent.

August 03, 1995|BARBARA WELDON TONE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

With the lift of a hand and the tap of a toe, 90 heads snap to the front of the room. "Zoh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh . . . zee, ee, ee, ee, ee, ee, ee . . . zah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah . . . "

Choir director Judy Ashmore begins warm-up for the weekly rehearsal of the Channelaires Chorus. Though the consonants may vary, this exercise is repeated many times each week at a variety of locations throughout Ventura County.

The Channelaires, a Camarillo-based chapter of Sweet Adelines, is one of a surprising number and variety of choral groups in Ventura County that get their members from the community--and that are always looking for new voices.

Anyone who once sang in the high school choir and now has that "gee-I-miss-the-music" nostalgia, will have no difficulty finding a vocal outlet near home.

And local choirs offer something for everyone--the lively exuberance of a show tune, the intense concentration of a great work, the lilting cadences of madrigal music. Each group has its own focus, style, audition process and personality.

Groups practice in churches, college theaters, elementary schools and strip malls. Singers may be involved with weekly rehearsals and concerts only, or they may devote many more hours to fund-raising, costuming, newsletters or audition committees. A group may do twice-a-year concerts only, or it may attend competitions, perform in European tours or provide community entertainment. The choral directors may communicate with a quick snap of the finger or with agitated verbal reprimands.

Auditions may not be required at all, or they can involve intimidating solos. Dues and associated costs are as low as $10 or can run into the thousands for an overseas tour. Singers come from all walks of life, all age groups, all levels of musical experience and expertise. And it seems that Tuesday night is most often rehearsal night in Ventura County.

All the groups share one common trait: They exist for the music, and the members find great satisfaction in expressing themselves with their vocal cords.

If you're looking to use those rusty pipes--and karaoke just isn't your style--we offer a small sampling of what's available:

WEST COUNTY

Ojai Community Chorus is led by artistic director Phil Harvey, who oversees an enthusiastic group. From the ponytailed thirty-something man to the newly coiffed grandmother, the singers love the music.

The chorus was formed in 1987, is some 65 voices strong and performs an eclectic mix of music including classical, show tunes and operettas. There are at least two concerts a year and occasional guest soloists and orchestras. Community appearances are frequent. The chorus often invites guest conductors to help broaden the members' musical perspective and exposure.

"What's great about this group," said eight-year member Cricket Twichell, "is that you don't have to have a magnificent voice; you can just love to sing."

* Ojai Community Chorus: rehearsals Mondays from 6:45 to 9:30 p.m. in Ojai. Call 646-1437.

Ventura County Master Chorale, with Burns Taft as artistic director, has been a part of the musical landscape in Ventura County since 1961. The 50-voice group performs classical and masterworks music.

This is not the place for the true beginner or the musically faint-at-heart. It is a place for those who want to be lifted by the expertise of the group and challenged by the music.

The chorale performs four to six programs a year, with frequent guest conductors, soloists and orchestra accompaniment. The group toured Europe this summer, performing in Russia, Estonia, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark.

Audition calls are placed in August and January. Prospective members should be able to sight-read and be prepared to audition for the director, bringing one or two pieces to sing as a solo. "It can be anything," said Lee Montemorra, the group's administrative director. "An aria, a folk song, a patriotic song, even something as simple as 'Silent Night.' The director is interested in hearing how the music is performed and with what sensitivity."

* Ventura County Master Chorale, rehearsals Tuesdays from 7 to 10 p.m. in Ventura. Call 654-6314 or 653-7282.

Members of the Gold Coast Concert Chorus, directed by Stephen Dombek, enjoy their Monday nights. They are a lively group, speaking up when they have questions, and singing with gusto when they don't. The youngest member is 15, the oldest is 83.

The 60-voice group, formed in 1988, performs three concerts a year: a holiday performance featuring Christmas, Hanukkah and secular songs, a midseason classical concert, and a thematic June performance, which has ranged from Broadway tunes to patriotic songs to the "Best of the Gold Coast Chorus."

The chorus has performed at Carnegie Hall and toured Great Britain in July.

There are no auditions, and members join at the beginning of each concert season.

* Gold Coast Concert Chorus, rehearsals Mondays from 7 to 10 p.m. in Ventura. Call 987-0672 or 647-3083.

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