JANESVILLE—Jack Schroeder expects no one to mistake him for Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo or Mario Lanza.
Aside from being a tenor, the Janesville man has little in common with those whose voices are synonymous with the works of the great masters. What he does share is their love and appreciation for song.
He gets to express it as a member of Janesville Choral Union.
“To be honest, I’m not that good of a singer,” joked Schroeder, who has been with the group for nearly 34 years. “But it’s good to be there with people who can really sing. It’s provides moments of grandeur where you think you’re really something.”
Each year, the local choral contingent starts rehearsing in September for its annual holiday concert. This year, for the 20th time in its 136-year history, Choral Union will perform George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah” when it takes center stage Dec. 2-3 at Cargill United Methodist Church in Janesville.
“There are a couple of spots I have to get through where I get all excited and choked up,” said Schroeder, referring to the piece. “I smile and stand there just moving my lips and singing in my head, and nobody knows but me.”
Schroeder said the work’s length and structural variations make it a challenge to sing.
“There are some really high parts where it’s like, ‘My throat is bleeding,’” he said. “You really get up there, and there are a couple of places where that goes on for a couple of pages.”
“It’s physically demanding because there isn’t a whole lot of solo work in this,” he added. “This one leans a whole lot on the chorus, so we get a chance to sing a lot. But after singing for that amount of time, you are physically exhausted from trying to breathe and still put out sound.”
Each year, between 80 and 100 singers take up the challenge. According to Schroeder, the group sees an annual turnover of about 25 percent.
One new member, 16-year-old Keith Meyers, said he has always enjoyed music, and he was encouraged to join by his sister Ellen.
“I lobbied a lot to get him to join, and our family encouraged him, also,” said Ellen Meyers, a Choral Union member for three years. “It’s fun to do that with him. We’re a pretty close family, so it’s always nice to find activities that we can all do together.
The younger Meyers, a home-schooled student, has previous experience singing as a member of the worship team at River Hills Community Church in Janesville. He said he has found his experience with Choral Union equally rewarding.
“I love it. It’s amazing. I’m hoping to get into music as a career someday, so this is definitely a learning experience,” he said. “I would hope that I would be able to do this for a while. I’m at the age where graduation is looming, so there’s a lot of uncertainty. But I hope to be able to continue with Choral Union.”
Meyers estimates he is the group’s youngest member by about 10 years. Still, he said the group has made him feel welcome.
“They are very friendly, very easy to talk to and very helpful,” he said of the other members. “There is so much musical knowledge and experience. The lady that sits behind me has been doing ‘Messiah’ for years.”
For her part, Ellen Meyers appreciates that Choral Union consists of community members, and that it features a mix of skilled and novice singers all connected by their love for music.
“If you can read music, carry a tune in a bucket and follow the director, you are qualified and very welcome,” she said.
She also believes Choral Union fulfills a need of helping people head into the Christmas season with holiday music in their hearts.
“It’s a nice way to put yourself into the right mindset,” she said. “Everything gets so crazy, so it’s nice for the audience to be able to come in, sit down and enjoy something beautiful to get recharged. And for us, being able to work on a project together, it’s nice to start the season with such a great feeling of accomplishment.”