- Associated Press - Monday, December 1, 2014

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Every week more than 100 women gather in a south Minneapolis church basement to limber up their lips and vocal chords.

Three of the vocalists in the Twin Cities Women’s Choir are sisters. Loie Lenarz, Mary Lenarz Cole and Lisa Lenarz-Wyatt say the choir has become a spiritual home.

“We hold each other up and we love each other,” says Mary Lenarz Cole. “It’s like my church.”

For the Lenarz family, singing is a tradition, Minnesota Public Radio News (https://bit.ly/1xOz3Re ) reported. Growing up in the 1950s and ‘60s, the four sisters and their three brothers learned songs in the kitchen of their Brooklyn Park home while doing dishes with their dad, Jim Lenarz.

“We had girl’s night and boy’s night for whose turn it was to do the dishes,” Mary Lenarz Cole said. “And as long as we would sing, dad would help.”

Jim Lenarz taught the children hymns, show tunes, and a couple of ditties from his days in the military during World War II.

“Some of them were war songs that kids probably shouldn’t have been learning how to sing, but we did learn how to sing ‘em,” Loie Lenarz said.

Their mother, Joyce Lenarz, also liked to sing, but the suppertime sessions with dad supplied her with a bit of a respite, Lisa Lenarz-Wyatt said.

“There were seven us so, you know, she would just kind of be with us all day and maybe disappear for a while as we were doing the dishes,” she said.

That early training expanded as the children joined musical groups in high school and beyond, including church choirs. But most were mixed — women and men singing together.

Mary Lenarz Cole says the idea of a women-only group wasn’t a sure sell until they heard the choir perform.

“We saw them, we heard them, and we were hooked,” she said. “It was like, well, sorry, who needs the men.”

The Lenarz sisters have been with the choir for about nine years, with occasional time off because of work and family demands.

Started by Mary Bussman in 1997 with 16 voices, the choir has grown to 115. Its members come from all ages and backgrounds.

It also is a non-profit with a board of directors and staff. Artistic Director Janice Hunton wears two hats. By day she’s a high school music educator at the Perpich Center for Arts Education in Golden Valley.

Hunton said there’s not a lot of music written specifically for women’s choral groups. The Women’s Choir is trying to remedy that by commissioning pieces for soprano and alto voices, she said.

Most of the music the Women’s Choir performs is secular. Folk and show tunes are a big part of their repertoire. But some songs, like “Big Legged Woman” defy categorization.

Vocalists don’t have to audition to join the choir, but they must be able to carry a tune and sing parts.

Lisa Lenarz-Wyatt says in her years as a member of the choir she hasn’t stood next to anyone who can’t sing.

But one requirement may have a winnowing effect.

“We memorize all of our music,” she said. “So occasionally, you know, people will flub up. But as far as carrying a tune or singing together, it just works.”

Loie Lenarz says the concerts are secondary to the spiritual experience of singing with her sisters and the other members of the Twin Cities Women’s Choir.

“It’s so lovely to know that I will be carried by the 100-plus other women there when I need to be,” she said. “That helps me give voice to something that otherwise it’s harder for me to give voice to.”


Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, https://www.mprnews.org

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