SPRINGVILLE — Sandy Mears started the Springville Community Chorale 18 years ago, to give local adults a place to share their love of music. This year, she is stepping down, leaving the choral family she created in someone else’s hands.
Mears’ musical career started in 1961, when she started teaching in the Springville-Griffith Institute district schools at 20 years old. There, she met her husband, who was a string teacher in the same district. They married in 1962.
Mears taught chorus at Springville Elementary School and the middle school after that, where she said she “found her niche.
“I loved it,” Mears said, of teaching middle schoolers. “That age is just so much fun.”
Of the S-GI music department, Mears said she “couldn’t have asked for a more supportive, cooperative faculty. Music at S-GI really hit its peak in the 1970s and 80s. It’s still great, but the arts have lost their momentum in education, which is really too bad. Music is our history. It’s in everything we do. If you get children involved in music, they have an easier time with academics.”
She continued teaching at S-GI until her retirement. But Mears’ involvement in musical education didn’t stop at the classroom door. She started the Presbyterian Choir, which she ran for 12 years, before spearheading the secular chorale with many of the same members, and many whom she had also taught in middle school, years before.
“They wanted me to start a choir, so I did,” she said, with a smile. “The rest is history.”
Mears said that her love of singing is what really drove her to provide that opportunity for the community, and that she did not want to take any money for the job.
“The community had paid my wages for so many years, I wanted to give back,” she said. So give back she did, first to 15 members who met at the Presbyterian church, to between 35 and 40 members today. As it grew in size, the chorale had to move to the larger United Methodist Church for rehearsals.
The adults she leads, Mears explained, “are just kids, grown up.
“It’s really no different teaching adults than teaching kids,” she said. “They still have the devil in them. At first, I didn’t think I could teach adults, after being with children for so many years. But I learned that adults are just big kids, who have maybe matured and learned to temper their opinions.”
Preparing for each of the chorale’s two annual concerts is an arduous process, one Mears and her accompanist, Doris Jones of Gowanda, used to undertake together.
“We sit down in August for the Christmas concert and lay out all of the music we’re considering,” she explained. “We spend about five or six hours going through new music. Programming is difficult, but it’s important to the concert itself.”
Mears said that she used to count up the number of rehearsals before a concert and “if we had 11 or 12, I knew we could make it.”
Of directing the group, Mears said, “As the years went on, it got easier,” as many of the members became seasoned veterans, many learning to read music, as they went along. She counts her experience singing in the Orchard Park Chorale under John Fleischman as a formative experience, that taught her how to be a better director and a better singer.
“I learned so much from him,” she said, of her musical mentor. “He’s had so much influence on choral music.”
The community chorale members come from Springville, Colden, Arcade, West Valley, Gowanda and near Perrysburg, creating a tight-knit group that Mears said is
“like a family.” She added that one member used to say the weekly rehearsals were like an escape from daily life, which the director said “is so important.
“We need those times, to be away from our routine,” she said.
Mears said that she thought long and hard, about giving up the chorale she built. After an illness last year, that required a hospital stay and some recuperation time, her son wanted her to live closer, so she purchased a house in Orchard Park with a backyard that backs up to her son’s. That allows Mears to see her two grandsons, 6 and 4, from just across the lawns. She said that she wanted more time to see the boys, and that the timing for her retirement “just felt right.
“The theme for our last concert was ‘to everything, there is a season,’ from Ecclesiastes,” she explained. “I’ve always believed that there is a time for everything. When the property where my house is came up for sale, it felt right. The chorale needed a fresh approach, too.”
When Georgia Miller, a music teacher at Pioneer Central School, became available to take the baton, Mears said she finally felt comfortable stepping away from the podium.
“I was very hesitant to turn over the chorale, something I had built up for 18 years,” she said. “If I didn’t find someone to do it, someone who was really anxious to lead, it would fall apart and then all of that hard work would be for naught.”
With Miller “anxious” to take the stand, Mears said she is ready to move on to the next stage of her life, but that she will be watching from the audience, at the chorale’s next concert.
“I may even do a guest appearance, for one number,” she said, with a smile. “We’ll see.”
She added that the chorale is always accepting new members, whether or not they can read music. Rehearsals are held once weekly, and concerts take place on the first Sunday of December and again in the spring.