Early Christmas PRESENT

NEGAUNEE – How did the Negaunee Male Chorus decide on its song selections for its Christmas concert this year?

“Vicki told us,” group publicist Gary Penhale said with a twinkle in his eye.

“We’re all bobblehead dolls when she tell us what to do,” chimed in Martin Clark, the group’s president, a smile wreathing his face.

Vicki is the group’s director Vicki Lempinen, who has been at the podium since the fall of 2003. And the gents are just kidding: She is no dictator.

“We actually have a committee that goes through songs,” Clark said. “We figure out what we haven’t done in awhile.”

Penhale said, “We try to add some fresh songs, then some that are older. We want to have a variety but the first half of the concert will be more serious, traditional music.”

“Then the second half we like having a little fun,” Clark said. “And some surprises, maybe.”

This year’s Christmas concert is set for 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7 at the Negaunee High School Auditorium, carrying on the Negaunee Male Chorus’s tradition of bringing beautiful music to its community for the past 83 years.

It was founded in 1930 by Joe Phillips and Eino Hutander, who brought together 16 young men who liked to sing.

According to a history of the ensemble put together by member Mike Lempinen, “The Negaunee High School music room has been the chorus’s home base throughout its existence. The chorus owes a great debt of gratitude to the Negaunee Public Schools administration and staff for their cooperation and assistance for these 83 years.”

Lempinen is director number 11 in the NMC’s 83-year history. She’s joined by Linda Hurrell, who has been the accompanist since 2004. In total, there have been 14 accompanists for the group.

And Negaunee may be in the name, but men from around the area are invited to join. The only requirement is a love for singing and to be at least 18 years old. There also is a spin-off chorus of sorts called Strictly Gospel, formed 28 years ago to present that variety of music.

“New members are always welcome,” Penhale said. “We meet at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, but we take the summers off.”

Clark said, “It can be difficult to get new members. We want to have younger guys, too, take part. So we try to do some newer-style music.”

“We’d like to get in some from the ’70s,” Penhale said.

“That’s the 1970s, not the 1870s,” Clark said and both men laughed. “There are a lot of efforts going on with recruiting. We want to keep an organization’s that’s been going for 80-plus years going strong.”

It’s all summed up beautifully in the NMC’s written history.

“The Negaunee Male Chorus was created by men who loved music and enjoyed singing, particularly male chorus music,” Lempinen’s history reads. “We are sure they never dreamed they were starting a legacy of music which would survive so long, one which has been a source of pride not only to the city of Negaunee but to the entire county as well, for men from all areas have been part of the chorus…

“And the Negaunee Male Chorus will continue as long as men love to sing.”

Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253.