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DIANE MAKAR MURPHY Spring concert promises to deliver chills



Published: Tue, May 1, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Steve Pridon stands over the church's console piano like it's a podium. He bangs on it to get the choir's attention. Two dozen or so singers sit in the small choir room at Struthers Presbyterian Church, laughing, talking, and sipping coffee after a Lenten Service.

Today, two Struthers church choirs, one from Struthers Presbyterian, the other from Struthers United Methodist, will rehearse for an upcoming concert.

Pridon, church music director, runs his hand along his blue jeans and smiles. He taps the toe of his deck shoe, then pushes up his glasses.

Sense of humor: A person in the crowd looks at me and says, "You will learn that we're an unruly bunch, especially the Presbyterians."

"Great is Thy Faithfulness," Pridon directs. The singers finally quiet down and dig through their music.

"We like to boogie, also," he says looking at me, "but we'll start out slow. For our spring concert, we'll sing with these great accompaniment tapes, which is the next best thing to having a real orchestra."

For now, however, there is Pridon on piano. He starts to play.

Voices from the combined choirs fill the small room. Three stained glass windows are dark with evening behind them. Singers hold up their music, some grasping binders, others booklets. The music crescendos. One woman puts a hand over her ear to hear the pitch. Another closes her eyes.

"Louder now," Pridon shouts, then sings along.

"Great is Thy Faithfulness! Great is Thy Faithfulness! Great is Thy Faithfulness!" They finish.

"Beautiful, very nice. You know you've done it when you have chills," he says.

"It's hard to sing when you have tears in your eyes," a man sitting in the third row of folding chairs says.

"Diane, did you get chills?" a woman asks, and they all laugh.

"We do this one with the violinist," Pridon tells me.

Guest artists: He is referring to Calvin Lewis, who will be one of several musicians joining Pridon's choir at Struthers Presbyterian's free spring concert. Also scheduled to appear are clarinetist Bob Fitzer, the church's handbell choir, and the Youngstown Sheet and Tube Brass Quartet.

"Standing on the Promises," Pridon says and more music shuffling occurs. "Let's boogie!"

Toes start tapping. The men sing a counterpoint to the women, and yes, I do get chills. Pridon's fingers race over the keys. He lifts one hand and purposefully flips the page, without missing a note.

I wonder about them sitting there, trapped in this space. "Is it hard to sit and sing?" I ask.

"Yes," answers Brenda Obenauf who has sung with the Presbyterian choir since 1995. "Some of us can't sit still."

"When we're in the loft, we move!" another offers.

I have seen the loft. It is part of a breathtakingly beautiful church with a round sanctuary, red cushioned pews and a domed stained glass ceiling. I can imagine how moving the singing will be in those quarters.

Giving it all: A while later, Obenauf leans over and whispers, "This one will impress you." The piano begins, then the voices join in. She can hardly contain herself. Obenauf raises her right hand in a fist, her heel tapping. She is slim and pretty in a neat light blue button-down sweater.

Obenauf joined the choir after having responded to an interest form during a church service. She signed up for bell choir and was asked to stay an extra hour for choir. "I love to sing," she said after the rehearsal. "I'm musical; my kids are musical."

Pridon is in his 10th year as Struthers Presbyterian's musical director. It is also his last. "I prayed and prayed about the decision," he said. "I leave here at the end of May."

For now, however, Pridon is taking the choir through one of its five spring concert rehearsals. The choir sings and Pridon stops them. He sighs. "That will just send chills." He pauses. "If we hit the right note."

Someone says, "It might send chills if we don't."

"Try it one more time. I know it's late and you're tired."

"Come Christians, Join to Sing!" is scheduled for 7 p.m. Sunday at Struthers Presbyterian Church, 110 Poland Ave. Refreshments and day care will be provided. Any donations will benefit Grace Place Medical Services.




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