- Associated Press - Monday, March 17, 2014

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - The Bismarck-Mandan Elks Men’s Chorus has been busy preparing for what will be one of the longest road trips in its illustrious history.

The group, which began as the Amoco Chorus in 1953, has been rehearsing since the first of the year to perform during the commissioning ceremonies of the USS North Dakota.

The ceremony for the Virginia Class nuclear attack submarine will be May 31 in Groton, Conn. The boat was floated on Sept. 15, 2013, and christened on Nov. 2.

Linda Fisher has served as the pianist for the chorus for the past 30 years. She said most of the 30 members of the chorus are planning to make the trip.

Fisher told The Bismarck Tribune (https://bit.ly/1kHArA4 ) that the Elks Lodge 1199 began sponsorship of the chorus in 1955 and through the years the group has been performing wherever and whenever it can.

The chorus has sung at nine national Elks conventions dating back to 1967 in cities like Chicago, San Francisco, Houston, Denver, New Orleans and Portland, Ore., as well as at the 1974 World’s Fair in Seattle.

It also has been part of some of North Dakota’s most important events, like the 1989 centennial celebration.

Gloria Knoll began directing the chorus five years ago after retiring from a career in music education.

Knoll describes the group as being “on loan” to the community for events ranging from the Fourth of July observance at the state Capitol to churches and nursing homes.

Last year, Knoll said, the group performed for residents at more than a dozen nursing homes in Bismarck and Mandan.

She said the song list, with about 15 numbers the group has been working on, includes such patriotic selections as “God Bless America” and “Song for the Unsung Hero,” as well as lighter tunes.

The group is scheduled to perform at three official commissioning events like the chairman’s and ship’s crew formal dinners as well as a reception on the pier and a luncheon following the commissioning.

Bob Wefald, a U.S. Navy veteran and chairman of the state USS North Dakota Committee, has written a new stanza for one of the selections, “The Navy Hymn.”

He said the lyrics are specific to North Dakota and were inspired by the crest of the boat. Wefald, who joined the chorus in 2011, said, “I came up with the idea in bed one night and crafted it the next day.”

The verse reads: “Lord be with North Dakota’s crew, as through the depths they pursue; their mission always peace to keep, reaping threats from the deep; protecting those on land who toil, drawing strength from the soil.”

Like the boat’s crest itself, Wefald said the verse plays on double meanings that connect the mission of the boat with North Dakota’s connection to the land.

Fisher said the chorus rehearses for a couple of hours each week and in the coming weeks has about a dozen performances scheduled at local churches.

She said the group also is looking for events or sponsorships to help fund the trip to the commissioning ceremony.

Fisher said a lot of the members are military veterans, but more than that, she said, they are thrilled about the opportunity to represent North Dakota.

“We have some members that have been with the chorus since the beginning,” she said.

“It is a big commitment,” she said, but the thing that brings them coming back is the camaraderie and the friendships. “It’s musical therapy … we’re like a family.”


Information from: Bismarck Tribune, https://www.bismarcktribune.com

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