WORTHINGTON -- Just about every Tuesday night, a group numbering five gathers at Worthington's American Reformed Church.
They talk, they joke, they laugh, and later they go out for coffee.
But mostly, they make music.
The Gospelaires -- a group composed of four male singers and an accompanist -- got their start in 1982 as a group of men who just liked to sing. In those early years, it was an informal endeavor, and the Gospelaires mostly performed for the benefit of their own congregation. They gave their first one-hour concert in 1984 at Inspiration Hills, a church camp in northwest Iowa.
The group took a sabbatical for a few years while one of its members went back to school, and another singer elected to leave when it got to be too big a commitment. After being asked to sing at a funeral in 2000, the Gospelaires regrouped in 2001 and brought in a new singer.
Today, the Gospelaires are Chris Wynia, high tenor; Gary Hietbrink, tenor; Paul Schutte, baritone; Mike Van Voorst, bass; and Nancy Hofstee, accompanist. Except for Chris, who lives in Sibley, Iowa, and Paul, who calls Rushmore home, the rest of the members are from Worthington. What brings them together is a love of music, especially quartet music.
"I've sung in a quartet a lot of my life," said Hietbrink.
"I think all of us have been involved in music all our lives," added Hofstee.
Over the years, they've put accumulated a wide repertoire of gospel tunes, and they continue to add to it.
"We sing a lot of old songs," explained Hietbrink. "The message doesn't change."
The Gospelaires average 15 to 20 concerts a year, and the most concerts they've ever given was 26 in 2004. They've been asked to sing at funerals, milestone birthday and anniversary celebrations, church services, quartet and gospel sings, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, Relay for Life ceremonies, band concerts and at venues such as Treasure Village and Cutty's Resort in the Iowa Great Lakes area and Worthington's Pioneer Village. They try to accommodate all requests for concerts.
"We never invite ourselves," said Hietbrink. "All our concerts have been requested. They just seem to hear about us."
Although the Gospelaires don't have a set fee or ask for money when they perform, they accept donations to help with travel and equipment expenses. They've upgraded their keyboard, speakers and sound system.
Family members often accompany the group on their concert excursions, and Hietbrink's wife, Sherri, usually runs the sound system.
According to Hietbrink, some of the group's favorite songs are "Just a Little Talk," "Step Into the Water, "Jericho Road," "It Is Finished" and "Amazing Grace," which they often sing at the end of a concert.
"And don't forget 'Kum Ba Yah' -- our campfire song," added Hofstee.
"We also try to have a little audience sing-a-long," Hietbrink said. "Everybody likes to sing."
Each year, the Gospelaires try to tackle at least one new piece of challenging music.
"They work hard at it," acknowledged Nancy. "They get better all the time."
While they certainly enjoy performing, Hietbrink said the rehearsals are equally, if not more, enjoyable.
"We look forward to Tuesday nights," he said. "To be honest, we have just as much fun at the practice as the concerts. We really miss it when we don't practice."
"They tease each other, joke around, and we all go out for coffee," Hofstee described.
That camaraderie translates into pleasing harmony when the men sing, with Hofstee providing what Hietbrink refers to as "a fifth voice" on the keyboard. They all take pride in having "live" accompaniment rather than relying on canned background music, and each song is truly a team effort..
"Not everyone can actually sing in that close harmony," Hietbrink said. "It's harder than you think."
"These guys work hard at getting a good blend," Hofstee concurred. "And if it sounds bad, I stop them. ... Everybody works together."
The Gospelaires hope that audiences enjoy their music, but above all, they use music to express their faith and hope it brings glory to God.
"We do it just to praise the Lord," said Hofstee, "and because we love music and enjoy it. It's a way to use our gifts."
The Gospelaires will present a concert at 9:30 a.m. Sunday at the American Reformed Church, 1720 N. Burlington Ave., Worthington. The public is invited to attend.