Oregon Adventist Men’s Chorus
Connecting Through Fellowship and Music
Though many have been blessed by the hearty music of the Oregon Adventist Men's Chorus (OAMC), few know its history or the impact it has had on the lives of the men involved in it.
"The men’s chorus is not really about music. It is about ministry,” says Lou Wildman, OAMC director. “It is the ministry that keeps us together. It is the ministry that fires us up. It is the ministry that nurtures us and to some degree nurtures the people who come to listen to what we have to say through music.”
The OAMC began when David Schmidt, then the East Salem (Oregon) Church pastor, asked Lou to direct 16 men for the Easter service. David, who was on the music committee for Oregon Camp Meeting, then suggested that they bring their 16 men from Salem to sing a finale for the last Sabbath evening of camp meeting. “I don’t think so," was Lou's reply. He felt that they needed at least 50 men to sing a fitting finale.
After calling all over the conference, they ended up with 112 men and a small orchestra. After their last song, Lou felt a hand on his arm and heard a voice say, "I’m Alf Birch. Can we do lunch?" At the time, Alf was the Oregon Conference president. Alf wanted a men’s chorus to sing and inspire at all the camp meetings.
Since the chorus members also wanted to continue their music, David and Lou decided in February 1995 to have a festival for the men’s chorus and invite men from all over the Oregon Conference to sing. More than 100 men came to the Sunnyside Church in Portland, and that first festival was so successful that it became a tradition each May.
Why a men’s chorus? "There is something about a men’s chorus that attracts people,” says Connie Lysinger, OAMC assistant director. "It’s a powerful sound that is unique. I think that people really like the way men’s chorus music gets right in your face." She explains that Lou works hard to get the members to sing with emotion and connect with the text. "When they are into the text and it resonates with the people, it is a moment when we are all connected—the singers and the audience," she says.
Lou agrees. “When a group of men steps out onto the platform with the pre-announced objective of telling the Gospel story in music, it makes a powerful testimony before they even open their mouths,” he says.
Ralph Stathem, a chorus member and volunteer, finds camaraderie as well as ministry in the chorus. “There is a real impact that happens to the guys when they get together and work," he says. "It is hard to get a group of guys to get together and talk. If you get a workbee on the roof of a house, then guys talk. The same thing happens with the men’s chorus."
The musical group is a ministry to its members as well as to its audiences. Steve Chapman, owner of a Medford non-emergency medical transportation company, left the church for 26 years. When he finally decided to come back, a friend told him that a men’s chorus was being formed. “Music has always been a big thing in my life, and I knew that for my spiritual walk I needed to be involved with a choir or quartet,” he explains. “As I got involved in the OAMC, I never dreamed that it would be such a blessing to be a part of a big group."
Steve has now been a member of OAMC for nine years. He continues to thrill in being part of God's commission to spread the Gospel. "Every year we sing to glorify God and touch people’s hearts, and in the process it touches my heart," he says.
The chorus has also involved dozens of instrumentalists during its 10 years, including strings, brass, percussion, piano and organ accompanists. “We have been blessed with the best accompanists that this denomination has to offer," says Lou. "It is a great honor for a guy like me to be able to work with musicians of this caliber. They bring no small amount of our success to the table.”
As the reputation of OAMC has grown, so has its list of yearly performances. The group has been asked to sing at the Africa for Christ crusade in Tanzania, led by Jere Patzer, North Pacific Union Conference president. They sang at the 2000 General Conference session in Toronto and at the Adventist-laymen’s Services and Industries international convention in Sacramento in 2001. Travel is expensive, and the chorus appreciates the donors who support these trips.
As OAMC celebrates its 10-year history, Steve sums up well what the chorus continues to mean to its members: “There is a special fellowship when I sing with this group. We have men coming together to worship and that is what it is all about. Singing is about worship.”
Editor's note: This year's festival concert will be held May 8 at Skyview High School in Vancouver, Washington, at 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. For more information and free tickets, call Orchards Church, (360) 892-2925. Listen to the OAMC online at www.GLEANERonline.org/audio/OAMC.