Photo by Sydney Cromwell.
Riverchase Community Choir
Andy Cooley leads the Riverchase Community Choir in singing a hymn before going to a performance in Vernon, Alabama.
You don’t have to belong to a church or even have a good voice.
In fact, the only requirement for becoming a member of the Riverchase Community Choir is the enjoyment of gospel music, said Director Andy Cooley of Bessemer.
“It’s such down-to-earth music that tells a story and feels so good that I tell the members to just sing from the heart,” he said. “We don’t sing show tunes, but if you enjoy old-time hymns we’d love for you to join us. We’re really laid back, and people can take part if they can hold up a book.”
According to Cooley, the current group, with about 40 participants, specializes in “songs we used to sing on Sunday night.”
“We do songs like ‘I’ll Fly Away,’ ‘Mansion Over the Hilltop’ and ‘It Is Well With My Soul,’” he said. “It used to be that many churches had a morning book, which is more formal, and then a Sunday night book, which was more lively and casual.”
According to Cooley, “depending on who shows up,” there will be as many as 14 or 16 Birmingham-area churches represented at each choir gathering.
In addition to Riverchase United Methodist Church, the churches include: Morgan UMC and Canaan Baptist, Bessemer; Pleasant Hill UMC, McCalla; Dogwood Grove Baptist Church, Adger; People’s Church, Hueytown; Hoover First UMC, Hunter Street Baptist Church and Grace Covenant Fellowship, Hoover; Alabaster First UMC; Vestavia Hills UMC, St. Mark’s UMC, Crossroads Church of the Nazarene and Shades Mountain Baptist Church, Vestavia; Roebuck Park Seventh Day Adventist; and Canterbury UMC, Mountain Brook.
“We’re pretty stretched out,” Cooley said.
The choir originated as the Riverchase UMC Gospel Choir and changed to the Riverchase Community Choir in 2012. The group, which usually rehearses the first Sunday of the month at Riverchase UMC, typically performs at retirement centers, assisted living and nursing home facilities, senior centers and churches, he said.
“One reason people like to take part is that they are not obligated weekly to rehearse and sing at three services each Sunday,” he said. “We have a great time, but we’re not that structured.”
Cooley, now retired, studied classical music for voice at
Birmingham-Southern College and worked as a full-time choir director for churches in the Birmingham area.
“For years I took part-time jobs in the regular workforce and then did Wednesday nights and Sundays in church,” he said. “But when our last child graduated from college in 1994, I quit working for pay and started volunteering.”
Barbara Sheppard of Hoover, who takes part in the choir, praises Cooley as “a great director with a wonderful voice who was key in extending the experience to the community.”
“The environment is so open and welcoming — Andy doesn’t require to do tryouts or prove you can read music or even sing,” Sheppard said. “We don’t make it difficult for anyone to become a part of our merry little band.”
And speaking of a band, Cooley said the choir is always looking for musicians.
“We have a bass player and pianist right now, but our violinist is moving out of state and we’re devastated,” he said.
Cooley said he hopes anyone interested in joining the Riverchase Community Choir will contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I just need either phone or email contact information, and I’ll keep you informed on rehearsal and performance dates,” he said. “Then just come on and jump in.”