The Pawtuxet Valley Community Chorus has been around since 1981, bringing music and culture to the Pawtuxet Valley Community in West Warwick and beyond. The chorus has roughly 70 members at any given time, and president and long-time member Julie Roch-Winward said those who attend their concerts are bound to recognize a familiar face among the singers.
The chorus started as an adult education class in the 1970s and slowly morphed into a fully-fledged organization by the early 1980s. Henry “Hank” Doiron served as the first musical director of the group, which had just 25 members at that time. The baton was eventually passed, and years later Brian Hopkins served as the leader of the group for 12 years. This summer, Hopkins retired from his directorial duties, and the group began a search for someone new. After interviewing several candidates, the board chose Nick Laroche, classically trained baritone and Adjunct Voice Faculty at Rhode Island College, as their director.
Laroche has been busy preparing the chorus for their annual holiday concert, which will take place this year on Dec. 8 and 9 at West Warwick High School.
“Our concert is called ‘We Wish You Christmas,’” said President Julie Roch-Winward. “What we try to incorporate into this concert is Christmas carols people would be familiar with as well as some pieces that they may not know.”
Roch-Winward said the chorus would perform classics like the Hallelujah Chorus and some lesser-known songs like “I Wish You Christmas.” There will also be a Christmas carol sing-along portion of the concert.
“We do try to make it fun for the audience,” said Roch-Winward.
Roch-Winward said the chorus is entering a new era under the direction of Laroche, who she fondly refers to as “the Energizer Bunny.”
The chorus rehearses every Thursday for about two hours at the West Warwick High School. Any singer age 18 or older can join by visiting the chorus’s Facebook page or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
“We’ve got members that are well into their 70s, and we’ve got a lot of younger people. We’ve got a nice mix,” she said.
Roch-Winward has been a member since 1993, and said that although many chorus members come and go over the years, there is still one original member, Diane Gadouri.
Gadouri said she originally joined because she had a lifelong love of music; plus, with young children at home, the chorus gave her the opportunity to socialize and make new friends. Over the years, Gadouri said she has seen the group change, growing from 25 members to more than 100 at one time, and back to today’s 70. Still, one thing has remained throughout the 30 years; a dedication to great music and great friends.
“It’s a lot of fun,” she said. “It’s a great group, the music is challenging and I’ve made a lot of friends.”
Gadouri said it’s rewarding to share music with the community, and to hear from her friends, family and neighbors how much they enjoyed the performance.
Since they’ve been around for more than 30 years, Roch-Winward said the chorus has a large fan base.
“We’ve been in existence for so long and we’ve got a lot of people that come back every year to hear our concerts,” she said. But there are also new people that learn about the group each year.
What makes attending a Pawtuxet Valley Community Chorus so fun for die-hard fans and new audience members alike is the close-knit sense of community.
“You always know somebody,” she said. “So you kind of feel connected in that way.”
Roch-Winward said attending the Pawtuxet Valley Community Chorus holiday concert, as opposed to a larger, more expensive choral performance, is great in two ways: it’s more affordable, and you can interact with the singers once the show is over.
“People will come up to you and say, ‘I didn’t know you sang in this, and you sounded so good,’” she said. “There’s that personal connection as well.”
The Pawtuxet Valley Community Chorus prides itself on their connection to their community. Each year, they give away scholarships to students pursuing college degrees in music education or performance.
“We probably have given away over $100,000 in the 30 years we’ve been in existence,” she said.
The money comes from fundraisers and their concerts, since the group is a non-profit. Scholarship recipients must apply and are chosen by a committee of chorus members. The scholarships are awarded during their June concert.
For more information on the Pawtuxet Valley Community Chorus, visit their Facebook page with the same name. Advance tickets for their holiday concert, “We Wish You Christmas” on Dec. 8 and 9 are $10 for adults and can be purchased at the door for $12. Children 12 and younger can get in for free with a canned good donation. All canned goods will go to the West Warwick Public Assistance Agency and the Rhode Island Food Bank.