Maplewood Glee Club prepares for yearly holiday concert

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MAPLEWOOD, NJ — The 35 members of the Maplewood Glee Club will take to the stage at St. Joseph’s Church on Sunday, Dec. 9, at 4 p.m. to perform their holiday concert, “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” The group, now in its 72nd year, was created in 1946 by a World War II veteran who wanted to sing with his friends when he returned home. When the members gather on Sunday, all the songs they perform will have the word “wonder” in them; the show includes Christmas music along with pop favorites and show tunes.

“When we were starting our set list we realized there are so many holiday songs about wonder,” Kevin Wiest, the club’s president, said in a phone interview with the News-Record on Nov. 29. “But we also try to pick a couple songs that will surprise people. We’ve done some Green Day songs in the past and I love watching the guys who are in their 80s sing those because it’s a song they’ve never heard.”

Singers range in age from their 30s to their 80s. It’s a no-audition group that invites anyone who wants to sing to come and join the fun; it has had up to 60 members in the past.

“It’s really just people who love to sing,” Wiest said. “You can be a shower singer, someone who was in college a cappella or a professional who just wants to keep your foot in the door. It’s a nice cross section of people.”

The holiday extravaganza is one of two concerts that the group holds each year. In addition to the holiday and spring concerts, the club will sing at any other event to which they are invited.

“We’ll sing at the drop of a hat,” Wiest, who has been singing since he was a child and also sang in college, said. “If we’re invited we’ll do it.”

The Maplewood Glee Club isn’t just made up of local residents, although many of the members do live in town. Wiest is from Westfield and others are from surrounding towns in Essex and Union counties. They rehearse one night per week during the year to get ready for performances.

Wiest is also an arranger for the group. When songs for a set list are decided upon, he said they try to find arrangements to buy. But if one doesn’t already exist or they want to feature a specific person, they will arrange the song themselves.

“We have a couple of really good soloists and a strong tenor section, so we try to feature them a lot,” Wiest said. “Everybody is invited to throw ideas out there and we whittle it down from there. Anything we want to tailor to the group we arrange ourselves.”

At the upcoming concert, eight of the 12 songs on the program were arranged by members of the club. But Wiest said that since a cappella groups have become more popular on college campuses especially, arrangements of songs for performance have been easier to find.

“There was definitely an explosion somewhere in the 1990s,” he said. “Now you’ll see 10 different groups on a campus.”

To add to the intergenerational aspect of the group, it also features a high school choir at each concert. The upcoming holiday concert will show off the students of Newark Academy, though Columbia High School is a frequent collaborator, as well as Chatham High School.

“We have a scholarship that we give to a high school student who plans on pursuing music, and that always ends up being a big highlight,” Wiest said. “These kids are so talented; we’re blown away every year. It’s so hard to pick, we wish we had more than one scholarship.”

Tickets for “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” can be purchased at the door Sunday, Dec. 9. To learn more about joining the Maplewood Glee Club, attend the rehearsal Monday, Jan. 7, and visit www.maplewoodgleeclub.com.

“We do try to be as family friendly as possible,” Wiest said. “We do fun songs that kids will like too, so anyone can come.”

Photos Courtesy of Maplewood Glee Club

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