Beautiful music made by local choir

Karen Reynolds
Contributing Writer

Keeping music alive is imperative to the Golden Gate Community Choir director Michael Whitaker who strives to provide a “joyful sound” that becomes “music” that he feels is needed in the world today. Anyone is welcome to be a part of this community choir.

As the group gears up for the upcoming Palm Sunday Easter performance on March 28 slated at 7 p.m. at the Damm Theatre in Osgood, they look at where they’ve come from.

The history of the Golden Gate Community Choir is filled with variety, just as it has a variety of voices lifted in song. It began as an experiment after Connie DeBurger of Osgood did a poll in her hometown area churches about the possibility of having an ecumenical Easter cantata. That was in 1996.

DeBurger directed that choir for about two years, accompanied by Mary Margaret Moorhead, doing only Easter performances.

Roger Stratton then directed the choir for about six years, adding a Christmas performance. Stratton reminisced that his favorite Christmas performance was one called “The Music of Christmas” and his favorite Easter performance was “He’s Alive!” Stratton said he really enjoyed his time as the director.
In 1998, the choir was officially named the Golden Gate Community Choir. Shortly after that, present director, Michael Whitaker of Benham, took the helm. At that time, Ellen Mulford of Versailles became the accompanist and still continues in that capacity today.

Pat Hicks of Napoleon has also served as accompanist for the group as well as Don Rice, who is now deceased.

Director Whitaker’s music background is playing the trombone and singing in the choir in high school at South Ripley. He feels he had great music teachers and owes all of his musical knowledge to Gary and Patsy Holdsworth, longtime music teachers at South Ripley. He just wants the singers to enjoy singing and the audiences to be inspired by the music.

Whitaker’s sister, Paula Grossman, is often a soloist in the choir and her husband, Mark, has served as the drummer for the group since the Christmas 2003 performance. Whitaker reports there are two members of this choir who have been to nearly every performance - Connie DeBurger of Osgood, and Billie Sue Ebinger of Holton.

DeBurger said the choir “has grown by leaps and bounds under Whitaker’s leadership. He has done an excellent job in polishing us. Every year our performances are more professional. He has been good for the choir,” she told The Versailles Republican.

Ebinger also had glowing praise for the choir as to what it provides. “The choir provides a very uplifting service for the Ripley County area. Not only does the community have the opportunity to hear a variety of spirit-filled music, but the participants have the opportunity to share their talent as we lift our voices to the Lord.” She continued, “All of us are from small churches where we don’t have a lot of opportunity to learn full-bodied choral pieces.”

She said one of the most common comments is “It’s so nice to be able to harmonize again.” Ebinger went on to say she is proud to be a member of the group. “It is my small way of witnessing to the Lord. I hope I can remain in the group for many more performances. I encourage anyone who likes to sing to come and join us.”

Anyone is welcome to sing with this choir. All that is required is a joyful noise.
Children who can sit still and are with an adult can sing, too. Music usually costs about $20 per singer. The choir asks a $10.00 donation from each member but does not track who pays and who doesn’t. Money is never a requirement to be able to sing with the choir that is mostly funded by donations from members with a free will offering taken at each performance.

Whitaker says the Lord always provides for their needs. Over the years, when there were special projects, they received donations from the Osgood Lions Club and the Benham United Methodist Church, where director Whitaker attends. Some grants have been available to them in the past, including one from the Ripley County Community Foundation.

Picking the music for the group is Whitaker’s job. He says he relies on God to “guide him to pick music that will help us celebrate and enjoy praising His name. The songs we sing should be fun to perform as well as inspiring to the audience.”

The 2009 Christmas performance was held for the first time ever in the Damm Theatre in Osgood. Whitaker said not only was the crowd large - so was the choir. They are currently working on raising $1600 for the purchase of another set of choir risers to safely accommodate the singers. There is an increased cost with using the Damm Theatre, but already someone has offered to pay the fee for the upcoming March performance.

The March 28 Palm Sunday event is a free concert to the public with everyone welcome. This year the theme is “Come to the Cross”. It will be an inspirational celebration of the life of Jesus Christ. It will contain all kinds of music from contemporary Christian rock and roll to old favorites such as “In The Garden.”

Whitaker is also an accomplished stained glass artist, having fashioned at least two different stained glass windows from bits and pieces of glass, to make beautiful windows. In just that same way, he takes bits and pieces of various voices and blends them all together for a beautiful sound.

He is thankful for the many participants who come together to help keep music alive in the community.

Above members of the Golden Gate Community Choir gather to practice under the direction of Michael Whitaker. The choir will perform Come to the Cross on Palm Sunday, March 28 at 7 p.m. at the Damm Theatre. The performance is free to the public. Pictured below is one of Whitaker's stained glass creations, another one of his artistic abilities to take bits and pieces and create beauty.