Back in 1968, the Loyalsock Concert Choir traveled to St. Petersburg, Fla., to perform at the 47th annual Festival of States, a weeklong program that hosts one musical act from each of the 50 states to perform in and around St. Petersburg. The Loyalsock Concert Choir was chosen to represent the state of Pennsylvania - a great honor made all the more special because the choir was the first-ever vocal group to participate in the festival. All the other musical acts up to that point had been instrumental bands.
This year marks the 44th anniversary of the Loyalsock Concert Choir's 1968 Festival of States performance. To mark the occasion, the choir members have organized a 44-year reunion that includes a range of activities from June 8 to 9.
Barb Horn, who is co-chairwoman of the 1968 Loyalsock Concert Choir Reunion Committee, played a big part in organizing the group's upcoming get-together. Horn, who was a senior at Loyalsock Township from 1967-68, spoke about the honor of being selected to perform. "It was an honor to be the only choir present," Horn said. "The choir was chosen, according to the director of the festival, because of its superior music quality and because of the school's reputation for furthering music education at the high school level."
Horn reminisced fondly about the choir's busy week of performances in St. Petersburg. "We had a non-stop schedule," she said. "The choir consisted of male and female students from ninth through 12th grade. We were in Florida from March 30 to April 5, 1968, and we had one to three performances per day and all of them were full concerts. It was quite an experience."
According to Horn, that week of performances included several highlights. "We performed at the Bay Front Center in St. Petersburg, which is a huge venue similar to the Hershey Arena. It was exciting because there we were in front of thousands of people. We also got to sing for Lawrence Welk, who was staying at the same hotel we were."
Choir Director Fred Eshleman put the choir through its paces during the Festival of States. "Fred was our energetic director and he worked us," Horn said. "Fred was the ultimate professional and, from what I understand, he still is. Fred will be coming to the reunion, which makes this event extra-special."
Of course, the trip wasn't all business. "It was a very busy week, but we did have some free time to go to the beach," Horn said. "We were also able to socialize with some of the other kids who were there for the Festival."
The choir members made friendships during that week that, in many cases, have lasted a lifetime, making this year's reunion especially poignant. Horn is no exception. She met her late husband, Daniel Horn, during that week in Florida. "He was a year ahead of me and came as a chaperone," Horn said. "I got to know him during that trip. We connected and were married for 25 years and the rest is history."
The idea for organizing a large-scale reunion came in summer of 2011, when Horn and a few of her fellow choir members came together. "A couple of us got to talking and said 'wouldn't it be nice to get the group together?' Christie Nelson Carr and I connected and became co-chairs of the reunion committee. We had a lot of help from our other committee members: Kathie Griggs Hunter, Joyce Shannon Huff, Melinda Menne, Bob Bohlander and Jim Myers. We got together once a month for the past six months to get things planned."
The reunion will include several events over the course of two days, starting with an informal get-together at 7 p.m. June 8 at Joey's Place, 505 Washington Blvd., which is open to the public. At 1 p.m. June 9, the choir will tour the recently renovated Loyalsock Township High School. The rest of the evening's events will take place at the Holiday Inn, 100 Pine St. A group picture will be taken outside the hotel at 4 p.m. There will be a cash bar with musical entertainment from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m., followed by a buffet dinner from 5:30 to 7 p.m. The evening program starts at 7 p.m.
The evening program will include a trivia game and there will be various scrap books and memorabilia on display. There also will be a slideshow of photographs taken during the 1968 trip by Putsee Vannucci. "Putsee's daughter, Bonnie, was in the choir and he came along and documented our entire trip by taking photographs," Horn said. "Thanks to his family, we'll be able to present a slideshow of everything we did on the trip."
Horn said that 75 people have already registered for the reunion, although this number includes spouses and guests. "I would guess we have 50 to 55 original members coming," Horn said. "Thanks to technology, we've been able to get in touch with many more people."
Some of those members will be traveling long distances to attend the reunion. "One member is coming from Germany and we have a couple that might be coming up from Florida," Horn said.
According to Horn, the choir members have been anticipating this reunion for some time. "Everyone is so excited for this reunion because we realize that this is probably the only time we'll be able to do something on this scale - with so many members and with Fred Eshleman present. It makes it all the more special. A lot of us have been to class reunions before, but because the choir was made up of four grades, it's better than a class reunion; it encompasses more people. Plus, we're all there for the same reasons. We all share a love of music and the choir."
The highlight of the reunion will undoubtedly be when the original choir members come together for one last performance. "We're going to sing a few numbers," Horn said. "Including our theme song, 'Let There Be Peace on Earth.' We sang that at every concert down in Florida. I'm looking forward to performing with everyone again. The thought of seeing all of us 60-something year-olds together again is wonderful. I can't wait to hear how we sound."
When asked if she thought the choir's musical talents have held up over the past 44 years, Horn laughed. "Not mine," she said. "I know there are some folks who still perform in church choirs and civic choirs and such. I still sing in my church choir and I enjoy it. I don't know how many of the members have kept up with singing, but it should be great anyway. It's just a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
To register for the reunion, call Barb Horn at 974-3744 or Christie Carr at 369-2323.