Melodears' Christmas benefit concert will be group's swan song

Friday, November 17, 2006
Ruth Johns

SHELL?KNOB, Mo. -- As the music fades from The Melodears' annual Christmas Benefit Concert next month, the group will ring down the curtain on a 25-year run.

Dating back to June 18, 1982, the Melodears' initial performance was "American?Heritage Festival." It was held at the Shell Knob-Viola Community Building, and Mary Armitage was the music director, a post she would hold for the next five years.

More than 30 women's voices united with four accompanists, including Elizabeth Smith,?Joan Gary,?Mary Lambert and Vera Clark. Paul Kirby served as moderator.

The program was in thanks to those who had donated money for a new community piano, and local businesses and artisans donated prizes for the event.

The program's last words, "Holding hands together for community," ultimately became the unspoken motto of the organization.

In 1985 the first freewill collection was taken from the audience for the Shell Knob?Alliance of Churches programs.?That collection was the beginning of benefit tradition.

The 1987-88 season brought in Audrey Morrill as music director, and under her guidance the Melodears sang to benefit the Library Builders Pledge program to help pay off its mortgage.

The Christmas concert of 1988 introduced the current music director,?Ruth Johns. In her 19 years of leadership, Johns has guided the group through some 33 productions, entertaining thousands of area residents during that time.

Johns, incidentally, was also the initial director of The Ozarks Chorale when it organized in?Eureka Springs in 1994.

Her meticulous choice of music for each event offered audiences a diverse range of both religious and secular music. Musical accompanists during this time have included Iona Suderman, Carol Hudson, Barbara Hilton, Mary Lambert,?Charlie Nanhof,?Norma Frolkey, and, for the past six years, Joyce Forkner.

Benefits flourished during Johns' tenure.?She organized the annual music scholarship program for local school talent. The program's mission was to encourage young students to continue their musical ambitions.

Other Melodears performances have provided financial assistance to First Responders, Central Community Fire Department, Shell Knob?School Music Department risers, the community building, and Haven of the Ozarks Animal Shelter.

Outside performances have included Britten's Ceremony of Carols, a combined effort with the women's chorus of Bella Vista for the renovation of the Eureka Springs Auditorium; and a guest performance with the Messiah Project at Juanita K. Hammons Auditorium,?Springfield, Mo.

The "pet" project of the Melodears, however, has been Lives Under Construction (LUC) Boys Ranch. Since 1992, not only has a substantial amount of money been raised by the group for the ranch, but Johns has given of her time and talents to introduce its young men into music, then incorporate them into the annual Christmas concerts.

The women's vocal group has combined love of music and community since the beginning, providing the area with a piece of culture that will be remembered. As a final goodwill gesture, the group has donated its 25-year musical library to the Evangel University Choral Department and its director,?Sharon?Wilkens.

The final Melodears concert will be the Annual Christmas Benefit Concert, benefitting the LUC?Boys Ranch, on?Friday, Dec. 8, at 7:30 p.m. in the Central Community?United Methodist Church,?Shell Knob.

The public is encouraged to attend.

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