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Singing from their hearts: Gospelaires, In Harmony to present joint concert

WORTHINGTON -- They have been singing together for more than a decade. Their harmonizing began while singing in church. They are regular performers at community events.

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Members of In Harmony are (from left) Glennis Marsh, Rita Beecroft, Faith Strouth and Darlene Rautenkranz.(Brian Korthals/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON -- They have been singing together for more than a decade. Their harmonizing began while singing in church. They are regular performers at community events.

That description applies to not just one, but two local musical ensembles: The Gospelaires and In Harmony. The two groups have a lot in common, and soon will have even more when they share the stage for a special concert April 4 at Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center. The concert is part of the facility's Grand Opening Open House Week, celebrating the recently renovated auditorium.

"The guys were thrilled to be asked" to participate in the concert, related Sherri Hietbrink, who serves as the Gospelaires' unofficial manager and works the sound system for performances.

Her husband, Gary, sings tenor in the Gospelaires, joined by Chris Wynia, high tenor; Paul Schutte, baritone; Mike Van Voorst, bass; and Nancy Hofstee, accompanist.

"We're feeling very privileged to be asked" to sing during the auditorium's opening week, said Faith Strouth, who sings soprano with In Harmony.

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For the concert, In Harmony will feature soprano Glenis Marsh, alto Rita Beecroft and accompanist Darlene Rautenkranz.

In Harmony

For most of the year, In Harmony is a quartet, with Susan Dyke adding her alto voice to the sound. But Dyke is a winter snowbird who has not yet returned to her northern roost from a southern retreat. Rautenkranz has rewritten the group's music to accommodate three voices instead of four.

Marsh, Beecroft and Strouth all began singing in the choir at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Worthington, while Rautenkranz is known for her keyboard talents at her own church, Westminster Presbyterian, and also plays on occasion at St. Mary's.

In Harmony was formed about 12 years ago in response to a request for a group to sing during the annual Christmas event at Worthington's Pioneer Village.

"We started out with holiday music for Pioneer Village and branched out from there," explained Beecroft. "We did love songs for Valentine's Day at Okabena Towers, patriotic songs for the summer band concerts."

In Harmony's concert program will reflect the group's varied repertoire, including a mixture of gospel, movie themes both old and new and a medley of songs from the 1960s.

"We tried to do a mixture, no certain style of music," explained Beecroft.

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"My husband said, 'Why don't you make it a trip through time?'" said Strouth, "so that's what it ended up being -- a journey through time."

The women usually rehearse at Westminster church and thoroughly enjoy singing together.

"Sometimes at practice we can just about sing as much as we laugh," said Rautenkranz. "Sometimes we laugh so much that pastor comes in to see what's going on."

Over the years, In Harmony's signature song has become "How Can I Keep From Singing?" a gospel tune that holds a special place in their hearts:

How can I keep from singing Your praise

How can I ever say enough

How amazing is Your love

How can I keep from shouting Your name

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I know I am loved by the King

And it makes my heart want to sing

"Music in general has been a big part of our lives," noted Beecroft.

The Gospelaires

As a group, the Gospelaires really got their start in the early 1980s, performing mostly for the benefit of their own congregation, American Reformed Church in Worthington. But the effort eventually disbanded. After being asked to sing for a funeral, the current members regrouped in 2001, and have been singing together ever since, averaging between 10 and 20 concerts a year. Most of the members are still from American Reformed; Van Voorst is a member of the Baptist church.

As the name indicates, the Gospelaires focus primarily on gospel music.

"We sing a lot of old songs," said Gary Hietbrink. "The message doesn't change."

With Hofstee on the piano, the men continue to practice on a weekly basis, although they've recently decided to cut back a bit on their concert schedule. They sing regularly for funerals, celebrations of special occasions, church services, quartet and gospel sings, nursing homes and assisted living facilities and at community events and celebrations. They accept donations to help with travel and equipment expenses.

For the Memorial Auditorium concert, the Gospelaires will harmonize on many old favorites and may surprise the audience with some new renditions.

"They'll do a few new ones that people haven't heard before," shared Sherri Hietbrink in describing the program. "They chose some of the favorites and will do a medley or two that the crowd can join in on, too -- let them do some singing with them."

As has become their custom, the Gospelaires will close with "Amazing Grace."

"And they have a themed verse," noted Sherri Hietbrink. "It's from Psalm 108, verse 1: 'My heart is steadfast, O God; I will sing, I will sing praises, even with my soul.' That's their guide. Nancy and the guys chose this verse a long time ago when they first started."

The concert featuring In Harmony and The Gospelaires will begin at 7 p.m. April 4 at Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center, 714 13th St., Worthington. Tickets are available at the auditorium box office, which is open from 9 am. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday. Phone 376-9101.

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The Gospelaires quartet is made up of (from left) Chris Wynia, Gary Hietbrink, Paul Schutte and Mike Van Voorst; not pictured is accompanist Nancy Hofstee. (submitted photo)

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