Heavenly Voices True Fellowship Ecumenical Choir joins faiths, local vocal talent

FAIRMOUNT — The sounds of the Christmas season echoed through Holy Family Church in Fairmount as the True Fellowship Ecumenical Choir performed its annual holiday concert Evening of Carols and Verse on Dec. 8. The choir, which has been in existence for over eight years, features some of the best musicians from a variety of faith backgrounds.

The True Fellowship Ecumenical Choir is the brainchild of Jack Gardner, a parishioner at Holy Family Church and former director of the senior choir at St. Joseph’s Church in Camillus. He said he founded the group to give people another opportunity to sing and perform music together in a warm, welcoming atmosphere.

“The main goal was to utilize the beautiful music. Many church choirs were dying off, with people dropping out left and right. We wanted to rebuild people’s interest in music with a varied repertoire from the participants’ churches,” Gardner explained.

The majority of the members are from Catholic and Protestant churches, Gardner said. Some of the diocesan churches represented are St. Cecilia’s in Solvay, St. Lucy’s in Syracuse, Our Lady of Solace in Syracuse, St. Joseph’s in Camillus, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse, Our Lady of Good Counsel in Warners and Holy Family. In its infancy, the choir had only 22 members. Today, the True Fellowship Ecumenical Choir is 40 members strong and continues to flourish.

The concert included holiday selections such as “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” “O Holy Night,” “Silent Night” and “Carol of the Bells.” Some of the songs featured special soloists, such as Duane Sutton, director of music at the Cathedral and Michael Vetrano, director of music at Holy Family. Portions of Handel’s “Messiah” were also performed. Joe Davoli accompanied some of the pieces on violin and Jeff Stepien added unique tones on saxophone.

Vetrano said it has been a good opportunity to play with the True Fellowship Ecumenical Choir for the last few years.

“It’s a great honor. It is so uplifting. It’s much more than a job — it’s a ministry. This is one of the ways I find God,” Vetrano said.

Gardner said more contemporary songs were added this year to give the performance a good mix of old and new. “Sing Lullaby” and “Three Songs for Christmas” provided additional depth to the selections performed.

Monica Cerio, parishioner at Holy Family Church, was the featured soloist on “The Linden Tree Carol” during the concert. She said being a part of the choir has been an enriching experience.

“I’ve been with the group for four years and I love it, especially at Christmas time,” Cerio said. “You get to perform songs you can’t sing at other times of year.” Cerio explained that having an ecumenical choir is very special.

“You have these different faiths, but we share stories of our common bonds. We know the same problems in preparing and performing liturgy,” she said. “There are more that connects us than divides us.”

Mary Osborne, a member of St. Cecilia’s Church, said she has enjoyed singing with the choir.

“The concerts are great. Jack [Gardner] is an excellent director. We have a lot of laughs and have a great time at rehearsals,” Osborne said. “We are great with each other.”

Evening of Carols and Verse was dedicated to Mary Santulli, a parishioner at St. Cecilia’s Church who was much loved in the choir. “Mary was a member of the choir for many years. She was a role model to all of us. She was a wonderful mother, wife and member of her church,” Gardner said. “Even people who knew her for a short time felt like they had known her for years.”

Gardner was pleased with the performance and said there will be much more to come in the future.

“We did very well. We have accomplished a lot of what I have wanted to do, but there is more I want to do in the next few years,” he said. “It would be nice to add more faith backgrounds. Right now we have a 50/50 split among Catholics and non-Catholics.” The ages in the True Fellowship Ecumenical Choir range from people in their 20s to their 70s, Gardner noted.

“You want a good mix of voices. It’s usually very hard to find. Having a varied type of voice is what gives you the best blend,” he said.

The True Fellowship Ecumenical Choir practices every other Tuesday night from the first week of September through the first week of May. In addition to the holiday season, the choir performed during May, around Memorial Day. For more information about joining, contact Jack Gardner at (315) 487-1194

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