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The members of BerkshireSings!, led by Rob Kelly at the piano, harmonize at Berkshire South Regional Community Center in Great Barrington. Photo courtesy Berkshire South Regional Community Center

BerkshireSings! at Berkshire South ‘brings a spirit that can’t be duplicated’

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By Tuesday, Nov 6, 2018 Life In the Berkshires

Great Barrington — Carol Rumph has been making the trip to Berkshire South Regional Community Center each Wednesday evening since 2012. “I can’t imagine life without it,” the Lenox resident said of her involvement with BerkshireSings!, a fledgling group that was conceived of seven years ago. “It’s a salve for the soul,” she continued of the program, which is part of the Adult and Community Free Programs at Berkshire South. “Really,” she added emphatically. “You may start off tired, lonely, anxious or angry but you float out of there happy,” she explained of the group, whose fall concert will be held Wednesday, Nov. 7, at 7 p.m.

“Many of the participants have been with the group since it began,” said Rob Kelly, a local musician and the director of BerkshireSings! Kelly recalled being approached in late 2011 to see if he would direct a weekly singing group to sing popular songs from a variety of time periods. Kelly agreed, and BerkshireSings! was born. For Kelly, who has not only been playing piano for most of his life but also teaching music privately and at various schools, he is in his element on Wednesday nights. “For the past 12 years, my love for singing, harmonizing and understanding the voice has become a passion,” Kelly said. “I love working with vocalists in performance settings as well as coaching and teaching vocal technique,” he added. The group, open to individuals ages 13 and up, meets on Wednesday evenings in the auditorium at Berkshire South from 6:45 to 8:15 p.m. Participants can sing to their hearts’ content, under the guidance and accompaniment of Kelly. Songs including pop, folk, jazz standards and show tunes are complemented with exercises in breathing, relaxation and listening.

Rob Kelly, at piano, leads members of the BerkshireSings! ensemble at Berkshire South Regional Community Center in Great Barrington. Photo courtesy Berkshire South Regional Community Center

“Each of us takes what we can from Rob’s simple instruction to the group,” said Rumph, “… and then we all just sing together in whatever range feels most comfortable to each of us: soprano, alto, tenor or bass. It works!” According to Rumph, “anyone who likes to sing should try it.” Judy Kinna of Great Barrington has been part of BerkshireSings! for almost seven years; she has watched the group grow from about a dozen people each week to 35-40 people singing three- and four-part harmony. “Under Rob’s direction, not only have I learned a lot about music, but there’s a real sense of community,” said Kinna. “It’s been an uplifting and very happy experience.” Everyone is welcome, there are no auditions and no prior training is necessary: All you need is a desire to sing. In addition, opportunities to perform at community events will be offered and the group occasionally performs off-site during regular class times. One of Kinna’s fondest memories with BerkshireSings! was warming up in the pedestrian tunnel across from the Mahaiwe Performing arts Center prior to the group’s performance at the Great Barrington Bandstand. “The acoustics were great … [it was as if] we were ready to go on the road that night!” Kinna added. From singing at the Red Lion Inn to performing at area nursing homes, Kinna said: “Music brings a spirit that can’t be duplicated.”

Berkshire South Regional Community Center executive director Jenise Lucey with her husband and daughters at a April 5K fundraising race to benefit Berkshire South at Walter J. Koladza Airport in Great Barrington. Photo: Marcie L. Setlow

“We strive to build relationships where there were none before, and to guide our program participants toward recognizing in others the humanity they see in themselves,” said Jenise Lucey, executive director of Berkshire South. She added, “Our goal for the BerkshireSings! program (and its sister program the Berkshire Ukulele Band) is to help participants [find] greater harmony [in their daily lives], toward mindful connection through song, through music.”

As to what keeps Kelly invested in the program? “I never realized what an important outlet singing is for many people. BerkshireSings! has become a way to both perform and provide an opportunity for many to sing in a group without the pressure or intimidation often found in audition situations,” he explained.

Perhaps Shannon Amidon Castille, associate director of marketing and communications at Berkshire South, said it best: “The wonder of this program is its heart. Last spring, when I sent out an appeal letter for the program, you would not believe the singers who called, sent letters, even dropped by just to tell me how important the program is to them, how it has helped them evolve not only as singers, but also as humans offering a gift to the world.” Or, as Judy Kinna put it, “I look forward to each week and leave the center humming and happy!” A pair of endorsements like that is music to anyone’s ears.

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