From the Holmes County Bargain Hunter:
Group celebrates 10 years of friendship and music
By Ellen Pill
Tim Shue, the director of Sonnenberg Station, settled into his chair and smiled. He said, “The group started before it had a name. It was just eight friends that had an interest in singing.”
After six months or so the group approached Shue and asked if he’d like to provide some leadership for the singers. It was a perfect match for the choir director who lives in the area, and he was happy to give up a commuting gig for one much closer to home.
Gradually the director started issuing invitations to add more singers. They currently have 18 members. During their second season it was decided that they probably could use a name for the group.
At that time they were rehearsing at the Sonnenberg Mennonite Church. “A lot of the guys have ancestral roots to the community,” Shue said. “My great-grandmother was from here, one of the Swiss Mennonites.”
The Sonnenberg Station was a rural Ohio train depot near the church where they rehearsed. Although the train station is now a feed mill, it’s still “a kind of local landmark,” Shue said. “Since a lot of us were connected here, it has geographical connotations, so rather than choosing some over-used Italian music term like ‘The Allegros’ or something, it’s really nice to have a local connection with the name.”
The group usually performs around five concerts per season. Often they are invited to sing, and sometimes they find an intriguing venue and will ask to perform. “We like to sing in beautiful, acoustical spaces,” Shue said. “For probably one of my favorite seasons I wanted to highlight some of the oldest churches in Wayne County. We did that two years ago. It took us to not necessarily large venues but special venues from an historical standpoint. Oftentimes the older churches have great acoustics because they were built for that before microphones and sound systems.”
What kind of music is the audience likely to enjoy at a Sonnenberg Station concert? “We like to sing a variety, and the audience likes to hear a variety. We do spirituals, folk, classical ... Every year we try to do a comical number, something with a little twist.”
Shue arranges one song per season for the group. They mostly sing a cappella with some songs accompanied on piano by chorus member Tim Yoder.
The members come from all around to take part in Sonnenberg Station. Rehearsals are now conducted in Kidron with members coming from the local area as well as Millersburg, Streetsboro, Wadsworth and Charm. With the current 18 members the number feels just right and isn’t likely to expand.
This year celebrates the 10th year the men have been gathering to sing and perform. Shue shared his ideas about what keeps the group going. “I think that thing that has nourished us for this long is that we see that the community seems to value what we do. I don’t think it’s just musical. I think they are inspired that a group of men are getting together to do something artistic and beautiful. We have people I don’t even know who follow us to our concerts, like rock band groupies,” he said with a laugh.
Continuing more seriously, Shue said, “It’s really very touching [the stories we hear]. It takes us into really rich experiences. We had no idea it would ever go 10 years.”
Jordan King, a native of Dalton, drives an hour from his home in Streetsboro once a week for the rehearsals. “This is my second year. It’s been a great experience. It’s really rewarding ... and it’s just fun getting out there and singing. All the guys are great.”
In his fifth season with the group, Clinton Miller’s father was an original member of the chorus. “They needed another low baritone, so here I am. You meet different people ... It’s fun to connect with an audience. It makes all the rehearsal worthwhile.”
Dave Risser is new to the group this season and enjoying the experience. “It’s great to get to know other guys with the same passions ... This is really fun music to sing. It’s challenging ... Tim is an excellent director.”
It’s clearly about more than the music for this closely-knit group of talented friends. “We always joke,” Shue said, “about how other guys get together and watch football or go bowling. This is kind of our bowling league. It’s not just about the music ... If I was to choose who I wanted to hang out with, these are the people. As an adult it’s pretty rare that you get a chance to sing. This is a cool opportunity to make music, and we’re pleasantly surprised that people want to keep hearing us. We do it because we love it, and to have an audience is a bonus.”
Area audiences can enjoy Sonnenberg Station’s heartfelt, eclectic and enthusiastic performances throughout the coming season. There is never a ticket price. The group simply asks for donations to cover their expenses. Find them at www.sonnenbergstation.org and on Facebook.