If Lexington Mayor Jim Gray ever asked me how to improve our city one evening at a time, I would tell him to steal the Summer Singers idea from Danville.
The annual regional choir event and sing-along, held this year on Monday at The Presbyterian Church of Danville, is an evening that always leaves me ridiculously happy.
Every year I find myself telling friends and acquaintances that they should go. You should go, too.
Barbara Hall, a Centre College music professor who started working with the program in 1985, is the mastermind behind the 70-member choir and its presentation. She also manages to give a lively collection of stories behind the music.
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The singers come from all around Danville: Richmond, Lexington, Harrodsburg, Stanford, Hustonville, McKinney and Junction City. They rehearse for months for this one night a year.
It's neither praise band nor high-cost ticket. Come in your khakis, or your jeans, or whatever sparkly thing makes you happy. The church is gorgeously renovated, yet it retains its frontier roots — and, Hall said, it is "acoustically a dream."
The concert is free and lively, and yet intimate and good-natured. Summer Singers reminds me of what the old chautauquas must have been like, when in the 19th century, people would gather in tents to hear a traveling speaker or musician simply to broaden their minds and bond with their neighbors.
In a world gone wild with screechy reality shows and equally shrill public meetings, listening to a sea chantey and singing along to a patriotic riff is a welcome change.
The singers range in age from 10 or 11 to 86-year-old Conley Wilkerson, the group's oldest member.
Wilkerson and his wife, JoAnn, who live outside Perryville, introduced me to the Summer Singers many years ago. I've attended the event every year since — sometimes with my now-grown children, and one year with our French exchange student, who was intrigued by the American music and amazed by the brazen squirrels on Centre's campus next door to the church where the Summer Singers present their program.
For those of us who cannot sing a note, Hall is a mesmerizing narrator, offering anecdotes, biographies and notes on arrangements in the manner of someone who is just dying for you to love this music.
"I want something with a very satisfying text and a very satisfying melody," Hall said. "I want people to get that joy out of a melody they feel they own."
Perhaps, because I like Danville, I romanticize it, but it seems to me that a fine goal for Lexington is to construct itself as a collection of Danvilles on Summer Singers night: lots of little communities bonding together over a lot of fine music, a few good stories and a couple of laughs. Call them chautauquas for an Internet age.