LACEY – A local choral group is proving that you don’t need to audition to make great music. The Island Singers, featuring 42 singers of all ages and abilities, has performed in the area for over half a century.
Village Lutheran Church in Lanoka Harbor comes alive with the sounds of music on Monday evenings as the Island Singers rehearse for their upcoming concerts. New singers are always welcome to join the group at practice, regardless of their experience or ability.
The rehearsal opens with choral members sitting in seats assigned by vocal parts and pulling out their sheet music. Singers begin to warm up their voices, ultimately filling the air with beautiful and uplifting sounds.
Ned Perwo, the group’s director, stands in the front of the room where all of the vocalists can see him. He moves his hands as a guide to the rhythm and tempo and gives visual cues in the direction of each of the vocal parts.
Although new to The Island Singers, Perwo has roots in the community and a wealth of experience and education in music. He is the Director of Music Ministry and Youth and Family Ministry at Holy Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Manasquan. Perwo also teaches music and shares his own voice as a part of the New Jersey Chamber Singers.
It was a stroke of serendipity that led Perwo to the Island Singers. He stumbled upon the opening to direct the choral group while perusing postings on the Ocean County Guild of Organists. The choral group was in the midst of an interim period after their long-term director retired.
“When I saw the posting, I realized it was for the town I grew up in,” said Perwo. “I grew up in Forked River and graduated from Lacey High School in 1997.”
The Island Singers formed as a non-profit community chorus in 1972 and typically performs a Spring Concert and a Winter Concert. Nine of the members are men, and one of the female singers began performing with the group more than four decades ago.
“Our members come from all age groups, from the 20s and up,” Perwo shared. “They all love to sing, and some have music degrees.”
Andrew Van Buskirk joined the Island Singers as an accompanist in 2016. He appears to be a valuable asset to the group, complementing the cohesive sound that has become the hallmark of the Island Singers. Depending on the musical selection, the Island Singers occasionally enlist the accompaniment of other instrumentalists.
The Winter Concerts generally have a touch of holiday with Christmas and Hanukkah music. The group is currently gearing up for its first spring performance on June 17 at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Beachwood.
“We’re doing a real big mix with a theme we call American Tapestry,” said Perwo. “It’s American composers, American folk songs, and American spirituals.”
The passion and dedication in just the group’s two-hour rehearsal appear to be a teaser to their upcoming concerts. Some of the singers started as complete strangers and now create a synchronicity of powerful music.
In addition to their performance at St. Paul Lutheran Church, the Island Singers will also perform at Community Reformed Church in Whiting on June 24 at 2 p.m. Their final Spring Concert is on June 25 at Holy Innocents Episcopal Church in Beach Haven on June 25 at 4 p.m.
Rehearsals end in June and preparation for the Winter Concert starts in September.
This year, the Island Singers received support from a grant administered by the Ocean County Cultural & Heritage Commission from funds granted by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, a division of the Department of State.