It was after 10 p.m., and Mark Westerhausen knew exactly where his 17-year-old son, Nick, was. The two were driving home to Leo-Cedarville after performing a CHORDS concert together at Bluffton's Gospel Barn.
Mark, an original member of the vocal ensemble, and Nick, the newest member, share a love for singing and a desire to reach listeners with the Gospel. That love transcends the tumult typical of many teen-parent relationships.
“This is something I am able to do with my son,” says Mark, “and that is cool.”
“It's fun to see my dad act like I do,” admits Nick. Never missing an opportunity to “zing” the more seasoned members of the group, though, the teen quips, “Who would have thought a bunch of old people would be so accepting?”
The Westerhausens and other members of CHORDS will give four performances this weekend. (See accompanying box for details.)
Group has rebirth
CHORDS formed in 1988 at St. Joseph United Methodist Church at Reed and St. Joe Center roads.
“We came together as a subset of voices from the larger sanctuary choir,” tenor Bruce Haines says. “It was an opportunity to broaden the church's music ministry.”
In 1992, lead singer Shawn Westbrook moved out of state, and the group disbanded.
A 2004 reunion concert reignited the group's passion and purpose. “It felt as though we had never parted,” director James Zanker says.
“We realized that we missed having that special relationship ... and that we needed to perform (again) on a regular basis,” baritone Bruce Frederick recalls.
CHORDS expanded its repertoire, recorded two CDs and began performing at concerts and worship services around the area.
Westbrook travels 12 hours round trip from Wisconsin, learning his music from a distance. He admits it's a challenge, though the sacrifices are worth it. “Seeing a person's face light up during a performance because ... they are hearing about Christ for the first time? That is a reward!” he says. Like the others, he sings “to give God the glory he richly deserves.”
Auline Nyberg is Zanker's “right-hand gal” and the only female vocalist. Members praise her rich tenor voice, crediting her with CHORDS' unusual sound. Says member Bill Anders, “She has a unique voice, and she lends something to the timbre of the group.”
The bass section is anchored by Gary Border and Carl Reuter. According to Border, “Carl and I are made out to be the troublemakers ... a malicious rumor! (We) like to think we are the glue that holds the group together.”
Anders is dubbed “the comedian” by Zanker. “I, of course, never ever am responsible for any of this frivolity,” Anders retorts.
The camaraderie among the group is infectious. Zanker handles the personalities with good humor and affection, balancing the teasing and laughter with focused, detail-driven and productive rehearsal time. “Rehearsals might be the best part of CHORDS,” he says.
“Rehearsals are so satisfying that we don't need an audience,” Anders says with a laugh.
“We would sing to an empty room!” Haines admits. “The music has the power to center you when you're drifting, comfort you when you're fearful, and assure you of God's presence, peace and grace in your life.”
Pianist Colleen Zurcher-McGauran joined CHORDS three years ago, and her keyboard skills and sensitivity to dynamics and phrasing enhance the group's vocals.
Of CHORDS, she says: “It's another opportunity to share my faith and love for Jesus Christ. The fellowship among the members and their families, as well as respect and admiration for each individual's gifts and talents, makes this group a ‘family.'”
In addition to ministering to their audiences, CHORDS members minister to one another. Divorce, wayward children, job losses and the death of a child have taken their toll, but members bear one another's burdens, praying for and encouraging each other with unconditional love and support.