CUMBERLAND — Some of the estimated 150 men who have joined The Flight 93 Memorial Chorus are in their 70s or 80s. The youngest is still in high school.
Some are from Cumberland or Grantsville; others are from as far away as Pittsburgh or Youngstown, Ohio.
All of them have a couple things in common.
1. They love to sing.
2. They love their country.
The group — created expressly to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — plans to share those passions with area audiences later this year.
“It’s very humbling to have so many men who are busy — everybody’s busy — but everybody believes in this project, and they’re inspired by the music that we’re singing,” said Chorus of the Potomac Director Jeff Avey, who expected about half as many participants when he launched the project in January.
Avey, who has taken the 20-member Chorus of the Potomac to Somerset, Pa., for the last several years to perform a Sept. 11 commemorative concert, wanted to try to bring a larger group for the 10th anniversary. So he sent word to fellow barbershop groups and all-male choruses across the region.
“We said, initially, wouldn’t it be great if we had a 100-voice chorus?” said Ted Toner, president of the board of the Cumberland-based Chorus of the Potomac. “Wouldn’t it be incredibly inspiring to be a part of that?”
Eighty-five-year-old Bernard Sinwill came all the way from Pittsburgh on Saturday for a three-hour rehearsal at Cumberland’s Grace Memorial Church. Two other members of Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Chorus came with him.
“Maybe a couple more will come, if we can convince them,” said Sinwill, who’s been singing in barbershop groups for the last 40 years — but never in a group with so many voices. “Because this is really something. I get water in my eyes when we’re singing.”
On Saturday, a group of about 65 rehearsed songs such as “Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor,””Follow the Flag,”and “Stars and Stripes Forever.”
While rain pounded on the church’s roof, Avey led the group through the difficult arrangement of Sousa’s march.
“If you learn these words, the notes will come,”said Avey, who cues the group by simply singing a starting pitch. “I don’t want to tell struggling people that maybe you ought to sing softly here. I want everybody to sing their hearts out.”
The music is, by all accounts, challenging. The group’s main rehearsals take place once a month, with other optional weekly rehearsals scheduled in Cumberland and Morgantown, W.Va..
“It is tough,”said Philip Parlock, 27, who directs a high school chorus in St. Michael, Pa. “It is very hard. I mean, I looked at it and did some double-takes. There’s cleft changes and everything.”
While some of the chorus’s members are accomplished singers, others are not. Singers rely on their ears and experience to learn the songs.
“Of the whole group here today, probably only 30 percent read music,” said Chorus of the Potomac member Eric Livengood, of Cumberland.
“But a lot of these are barbershoppers who have been singing barber shop for music for 50 years. We’re pretty much song junkies. We sing wherever we can. It’s camaraderie. It’s a great bunch of guys.”
In order to get to know such a diversity of singers, Avey asked each member to provide him with a biographical index card, including an answer to the question: “Where were you on Sept. 11?”
“Freedom is so fragile,”Avey said. “We’re a lot more free than other countries in ways that we take for granted. It’s nice to express it and be proud of it.”