By Julio Avila
They come from different age groups and backgrounds, but on Sunday, the Huntington Community Chorus was in grand harmony, sharing holiday cheer in its “Songs Of The Winter Season” recital.
The chorus’ 33 members, who vary from high school students to senior citizens, share the interest of singing and the goal of producing sounds to dazzle their audience.
And dazzle they did during the hour-long recital at the Congregational Church of Huntington in Centerport. Following performances of pieces by composers including Mozart, David Childs, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Z. Randall Stroope, and classical songs such as “The Moon Is Distant From The Sea,” “Ding Dong! Merrily on High,” “Carol of the Bells,” the group was given a standing ovation by the packed crowd.
The two-year-old choir is led by Judy Leopold, its founder and director. Leopold is a “fourth-generation Huntingtonian” and has an extensive resume. She majored in piano and voice at the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music, graduating with honors; started the Woodstock Chamber Orchestra over 30 years ago; was the chorus instructor at Walt Whitman High School, leading the school’s chorus groups to win gold and gold-with-distinction awards at the annual New York State School Music Association competitions; and is the choral curriculum chairperson for NYSSMA.
This group is a chamber chorus consisting of fewer than 40 people who sing vocal chamber music, which no other chorus in Huntington performs, Leopold said.
“That’s some of the most precious songs of the repertoire,” Leopold said. “And we’re intergenerational. I have high school and people who are retired singing together...so talented high school juniors and seniors are just welcome as senior citizens.”
Days and hours of hard work are put into rehearsing for its recitals, or “the journey,” as Leopold put it.
“The rehearsal process is just as much fun as the performance,” Leopold said. “At rehearsals, we laugh. We work hard, but we also laugh hard.”
Some members are Leopold’s former Walt Whitman High School students. Mike Koullias, a 22-year-old bass singer from Huntington Station, said he joined the choir upon Leopold’s request because he loves to sing.
“It was definitely a privilege when she came up to me and asked,” Koullias said. “She told me in passing while I was working at a restaurant. She was like, ‘I haven’t seen you in years. You should join up. I’m starting a community choir.’ And that was that.”
Koullias added that working with Leopold has been a “magical experience.”
“You learn to love what you do and it applies to all aspects,” Koullias said. “As long as I’m available every Sunday night, I’m going to be coming back and singing.”
Matt Foley, 23, is also a bass singer and former Leopold student from Huntington Station who shares the same feelings. He didn’t continue singing in college, but he enjoys having it as part of his routine as a hobby.
Huntington soprano Serena DiLiddo, 28, was one of Leopold’s first students in her first year at Walt Whitman High School. She “grew up” with Leopold, DiLiddo said, and got her first start outside high school with Leopold’s women’s choir in 2011.
“I love working with her,” DiLiddo said. “She loves her students and she would do anything to help them.”
DiLiddo had a Spanish solo at the end of the song “Esto Les Digo,” which she also did in high school. She added she will not be able to continue with the choir because she was offered an English-teaching job in Japan.
“I wish I could Skype and sing with everybody,” DiLiddo said, laughing. “If I come back to Long Island, I would still continue in her choir.”
Tenor and forensic analyst Stephen Linker, 70, of Dix Hills, said he joined because the choir “is like a sport. It requires the body to be in shape. It’s amazing how much in tone you need to be … to do.”
Linker, who has been with the choir for only four months, sang in college. His introduction to the choir began when his wife spoke to Leopold at a bridal shower.
“The rest is history,” Linker said. “The timing was perfect. It seemed like the right thing to do.”
The choir’s success is possible thanks to members’ talents, the support staff -- who include Alex Roff, Jenn Kielawa and Emma Arownow -- financial sponsors and the “fine people people of the congregational church of Huntington who enable us to do this” each May and December, Leopold said.
One sponsor is Alan Orloff, Leopold’s husband, who himself has had a career in music.
“It seems like a logical extension of what we are, what we do and who we are,” Orloff said. “We’re in a position to have a little extra time now that we’re retired from the public schools, so we take on an unbelievable amount of other things around like this choir.”
Orloff said he hopes concertgoers appreciate the group’s particular style.
“Anyone hearing this chorus will have to say, ‘I don’t know that I’ve ever heard people sing that way,’” Orloff said. “That’s the thing I think I’m proudest of my wife about.”
Leopold said she hopes to get more members and to take on more “hard” music and choral challenges. Next year’s performances will feature instrumental accompaniments.
But has even higher hopes for the future.
“There’s a ‘Debut Series’ at Carnegie Hall and I would like to apply for that and hopefully be accepted,” Leopold said, adding that the chorus has performed there, but for festivals. The “Debut Series” consists of many community choirs singing together. “This is a goal for five years from now.”