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Beaverton's ISing Choir spreads song, spirit of giving on tour of France

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Members of the ISing Choir perform at a church in Beavertons sister city of Cluses, France. If an audience in Marines, France, is any indication, Beaverton’s ISing Choir is a musical experience that’s well worth the wait.

After what should have been a 30-minute trip from Paris to the city in Northern France turned into a two-hour ordeal, 53 members of Beaverton’s ISing Choir lowered their expectations accordingly for that evening’s concert.

The group had just performed a concert at Notre Dame Cathedral and toured the Louvre museum before boarding the chartered bus for a previously unscheduled “drive-by” concert in Marines. From there, recalls Stephen Galvan, the choir’s artistic director, the thus-far triumphant day started to unravel.

“We got on the bus to go to the concert and got stuck in Paris traffic,” Galvan says. “We could not get out of the city no matter how hard we tried. We had to delay the concert for an hour.”

To the relief of the visiting singers from Oregon, the Marines audience had not only remained at the venue, but greeted them with a sense of anticipation rather than impatience.

“They had waited for us,” Galvan says. “We walked in to a standing ovation.”

The impromptu concert was a triumph, but the rush — based on when the bus had to be parked — was not over.

“We literally walked out from the bus, performed, got another standing ovation, walked out and got back on the bus. It was a wonderful experience, but so rushed.”

Fortunately, the hustle and bustle of the Marines show was the exception, rather than the rule, for the ISing Choir’s 10-day Tour de France from June 19-29. The choir performed full concerts in Lyon, Chartres, Paris, Bonne and Cluses.

The nearly 10-year-old, 75-member, Beaverton-based choir, which donates proceeds from performances to local charities, added France to its repertoire of European tour locales. So far, the choir has performed in Spain, England and Germany.

Highlights of the latest trek, rattled off by Galvan, Alan Morris, the choir’s community development liaison, and Sue Pike, an ISing board of directors member, include a concert in Cluses, Beaverton’s sister city, performing with classical harmonica champion Susan Sauter, who hails from Trossingen, another sister city and performing a “tri-tone”-based composition Galvan composed specifically for the tour. A few weeks after the trip, they’re still aglow with the connections they made with local audiences and natives who were gracious enough to help the group with lodging, meals or coordinating tours and activities.

“To pick a pure highlight is pretty tough,” Morris says. “But the Cluses concert and the “drive-by” concert were among them. As one of the singers who’s been on all four tours, just the ability to be with these people for 10 days, to perform and be a group, it becomes much more than a club or something like that. You get to know people pretty well. The times you’re together with people, both on and off the bus, those times are irreplaceable.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Stephen Galvan, ISing Choirs artistic director, Sue Pike, an ISing board of directors member, and Alan Morris, the choir's community development liaison, recently returned from the choir's 10-day Tour de France.

Voices serving others

The tour served as an extension of ISing’s goal to share, in the words of its mission statement, “innovative and exceptional choral music,” while supporting local nonprofit organizations. Serving the entire Portland metro area, the Westside choir shares the culture of music with its audience and explores other music cultures through touring.

The choir received a Service to Beaverton Award last Friday at the annual awards luncheon recognizing individuals, organizations and businesses that consistently give something back to the city. ISing was recognized for its role as cultural ambassador as well as for raising more than $135,000 for charitable groups since its formation.

“I don’t know of any other (vocal) group that’s 100 percent volunteer based, whose proceeds go to a beneficiary,” Galvan says, noting the choir members paid their own expenses on the France tour. “The travel costs are exclusively borne by each individual. This was a $180,000 project. We would go every year if we could afford it. That’s why we do it on a three-year cycle.”

Auditions are not required to join, but singers are brought into the choir with an expectation of high quality and hard work, along with fun and travel.

“The standard of being in the choir is extremely high,” Galvan says. “You will discover very quickly if your musical ability is not on par. We do a whole lot of work to provide the tools and training. The comments we typically get are ‘We can’t believe your’e a volunteer choir.’ The caliber is so high.’”

Inspired collaboration

ISing’s standards were such that Susan Sauter, who was named Trossingen’s harmonica master in 2004, was persuaded to join the choir again after meeting the singers on their German tour a few years ago. Sauter, who performed for Vose Elementary students in May during a Beaverton visit, took a four-hour bus ride to meet and rehearse with ISing.

She performed on a piece Galvan composed that includes a tri-tone motif, once considered such a dissonant interval that it was banned in some churches and cultures.

“I wanted something with harmonica, but not something that was particularly easy with harmonica,” Galvan says. “I knew Susan could do anything, and this would be something the choir would be challenged with.”

The augmented choir performed an afternoon concert in Lyon in the crypt of the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviére.

“We’re not used to cathedrals with those big acoustics,” Galvan explains. “We quickly adjusted to that. The great thing about doing that is we get into areas the public doesn’t get into. We were in the crypt of Notre Dame.”

Sister connection

Both Galvan and Pike saw the highlight of the tour as performing in Beaverton’s sister city of Cluses.

“The church was absolutely filled to the brim,” Galvan says. “We were received so graciously. It was the best concert we’d done on the whole tour.”

At a reception afterward, the ISing members exchanged gifts — including four bottles from Beaverton’s new Fullerton winery — with Cluses city officials, who presented the choir members with medals.

“We extended an invitation for them to come to Beaverton,” he says. “It’s my hope one day we’ll have a truly international festival, with all the sister cities represented.”

Pike, who doesn’t perform but serves as the choir’s community liaison, praised Galvan’s dedication, talent and ability to make ISing an entity greater than the sum of its parts.

“I think the respect all the choir members have for Steve, and the way he conducts the choir are totally remarkable,” she says. “There’s nobody I know who does what Steve does.”

For more information on ISing Choir, visit

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