Chorale rehearsal

Harry Funk / The Almanac

Members of the South Hills Chorale rehearse for the “Sound the Pipes!” holiday concerts.

Growing up around her mother teaching music and her father playing the clarinet, Earla Renckly did a lot of serious singing as a youngster.

When the Cecil Township resident looked to resume the practice several years ago, some South Hills Chorale members she knew suggested that she audition for the group.

She made the grade, and she made plenty of new friends right off the bat.

“You walk into your first rehearsal, and there’s that little bit of: Well, where do I sit? I have heard of other groups where you go and sit down, and somebody comes up and says, ‘That’s my chair,’” she recalled, but that wasn’t the case with the South Hills folks. “People were so welcoming and so gracious, and so helpful in terms of go here, sit here. This is how we do this here. It is an open-arms kind of group.”

Philip Aley

Harry Funk / The Almanac

Philip Aley directs the chorale during a rehearsal at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Mt. Lebanon.

Renckly serves as president of the board for the chorale, an all-volunteer ensemble that has been bringing vocal harmonies to appreciative audiences since 1960.

One of the members, Carol Steffen, has been involved since the beginning. Another, Karen Christensen will mark her golden anniversary next year.

And 95-year-old Bill McAuley, who performed in an Army band during World War II, still sings in the chorale, as does his wife, Barbara.

A prime opportunity to hear what they and nearly 90 other voices bring to performance is the “Sound the Pipes!” holiday concerts scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Dec. 14 and 15 at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 2040 Washington Road, Upper St. Clair.

In somewhat of an unusual instrumental choice, bagpiper George Balderose will accompany the chorale during the shows, preceded by him playing outside the church as guests arrive.

“I almost had a rough time convincing myself that this would work for Christmas,” Philip Aley of Green Tree, the group’s music director for the past seven years, said. “Normally, when you have bagpipes involved, all you’re doing is patriotic, patriotic, patriotic.”

He met Balderose during a Pittsburgh Light-Up Night performance at First Presbyterian Church on Sixth Avenue.

“George stands on the porch of the church and plays Christmas carols,” Aley said. “So that’s how I knew he had a whole barrage of Christmas carols in his repertoire.”

Joining him for “Sound the Pipes!” are Nancy Gordon-Galluzzo, the chorale’s regular accompanist, on pipe organ, and her husband, Marino Galluzzo, on woodwinds, along with a percussionist and bass player.

Marino Galluzzo

Marino Galluzzo

As far as the camaraderie, Rick Smith of South Fayette Township echoes Renckly’s sentiments.

“We’re really a family, and we get along well,” he said. “We care for each other, and we all share the joy of singing. That’s the biggest thing that brings us all together, from different backgrounds and walks of life.”

He has served as the chorale’s business manager for eight years and has been singing with the group for 18.

“I’ve gotten two great things out of it,” Smith said. “No. 1, it helped me to quit smoking, because I was a smoker when I came here.”

And on equal footing as No. 1, he met his wife, Debbie.

“She joined independently of me that same year. We didn’t know each other,” he explained. “And three years later, we got married.”

Just this past year, Joni Mauer joined the chorale after moving back to the area – she lives across the street from Renckly and her husband, Jim, in Cecil – from the state of California. Mauer has known some of the members since they were teenagers.

“They asked me to come audition, and it was a way to get reintegrated into the community,” she said. “So that has worked out well.”

For more information about the South Hills Chorale and the “Sound the Pipes!” concerts, visit www.southhillschorale.org.

South Hills Chorale spring concert

Courtesy of Jim Renckly

Members of the South Hills Chorale perform their spring concert.

Multimedia Reporter

Staff writer Harry Funk, a professional journalist for three-plus decades, has been on the staff of The Almanac since 2015. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and master of business administration, both from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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