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Beaverton choir opens doorway to Germany

Concert will benefit 4-H Tech Wizards with 100 percent of the proceeds
by: Submitted photo During its summer tour in southern Germany, the Beaverton-based ISing Community Choir performed with Kammerchor Burgau under the direction of Steven Galván. For more on the trip, visit ISing.org.

If you ever longed to visit Germany during the holidays and just couldn't pull together the time or the money for such a lavish venture, there is now another alternative for you to consider.

It is the ISing Community Choir's winter concert - 'Winterfest: Doorway to Germany' - and it's free.

Oh, sure, they'll accept a donation, but they promise that every cent they take in will be passed along to the designated charity, and in this case that is the 4-H Tech Wizards, an after-school group for at-risk kids.

The choir, under the leadership of Stephen Galván, artistic director, is set for 7:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 2 and 3, and at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 4, at Bethel Congregational United Church of Christ.

The choir toured southern Germany this past summer, and one of the highlights of that trip was a person they met in Beaverton's sister city of Trossingen: harmonica virtuoso Susan Sauter.

'She is the reigning world champion classical harmonica player,' said Galván, explaining that Sauter has already been to Beaverton and performed during one of Bethel Congregational's 'Music Sunday' gatherings back in August. When they first heard her in her own country, he said, 'We were blown away.'

'Our board, after hearing her here, insisted, 'we've got to bring her back,'' said Galván.

It opens with bells

The program for the three days of concerts will have a bit of a holiday feel, said Galván, because 'we kind of go through a history of German carols,' some of which will sound familiar to the audience, even though the titles might not. 'It's kind of a historical perspective.

'And, of course, we're featuring the harmonica throughout the program,' he added.

The program will open with a recording Galván made of the bells of Ulm Minster, the German church with the world's largest steeple.

Galván has been with the choir eight years now, and the membership, he said, runs 'between 70 and 80.' There's enough demand to join, he said, that they hold interviews once a year - not auditions, per se, but get-acquainted conversations to determine if a person has the right character and disposition to fit in with the group.

'They're all volunteers - including Steve,' said Sue Pike, board member and the person in charge of publicity.

Galván, 54, works for the church during his regular life and also teaches private piano and voice lessons.

The choir faced a similar challenge when they set out to find an accompanist who would, like Galván, be willing to work for free. Yvonne Yang turned out to be that person.

'She has been with us from the beginning,' Galván said.

'Something new'

In his work space in the basement of the Beaverton church, beneath a giant three-part jigsaw puzzle depicting the birth of Christ, Galván talked about the choir's humble beginnings.

It began, he said, as a group of engineers at Intel who got together just to perform for fun in the community. When he was approached about the director position, he listened to them at the Old Church in downtown Portland - and liked what he heard.

'I said I would be willing to take it on, but I wanted to try something new,' he said, explaining that he wanted to be responsible for creative decisions and he wanted the choir to do benefit concerts in which 'all the proceeds would go to charities.'

A third condition, said Galván, was, 'I wanted to lead a group that was interested in touring.' That was met with some skepticism, he said, until they actually did it.

Their first big trip, in 2005, was to Spain, to participate in an international choir festival. 'That first one was a huge hurdle, but after that, they were absolutely hooked. They wanted to go again the next year.'

Of course, the financial reality was they would have to save their money and space the trips out. The second tour, in 2008, was to England.

Meanwhile, he said, referring to the original musical enterprise, 'the other group stayed at Intel and became the Intel Singers.'

Of the ISing Community Choir's rise in the Portland music scene, Galván said, 'We're the new kid on the block, and our name is starting to come up, with the Oregon Repertory Singers and the Oregon Chorale.'

Giving 100 percent

The whole mission to give away all the proceeds from the choir's concerts was a little tough to sell at first. An attempt to make Mercy Corps the beneficiary back in the beginning, said Galván, was met with resistance. The Portland-based emergency responder at first declined, supposing that whatever small percentage the choir contributed would not be worth the hassle.

That changed, though, when it was assured the take would be 100 percent. That's the way it's been ever since, said Galván, and the Beaverton choir has proven to be quite the money-raiser in recent years.

'We're now averaging over $10,000,' for the three combined performances, he said, adding that the fundraising efficiency is boosted considerably by matching partnerships with such groups as Intel, Bethel Congregational, the ISing board of directors and Golf Scorecards, which donates printing.

'After we went to Spain,' said Galván, the group decided to take the necessary steps to achieve nonprofit status.

Due to all of its charitable efforts, said Galván, 'We have strong ties with the Beaverton School District.'

This concert series beneficiary, the 4-H Tech Wizards, is, according to its own promotional materials, 'an after-school, small-group mentoring program for vulnerable and marginalized youth' that meets at the Capital Center, near 185th Avenue and Walker Road.

'That organization is becoming a national model for how to take individuals for whom English is a second language,' said Galván and it provides young people with them training, skills and real-life help with schooling and the workplace.

Anyone interested in donating to the choir can do so by going to Ising.org and clicking on the 'support' tab.