By DEBORAH GERTZ HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
MOUNT STERLING, Ill. -- Kris McCaskill keeps her calendar filled with notes -- musical notes.
"It's my favorite time of year to sing," McCaskill said.
Community choir rehearsal on Monday nights. Church cantata practice on Wednesday nights. First performance of the Mount Sterling YMCA Community Band and Choir on Sunday afternoon.
The band and choir are the latest addition to the arts in Brown County, and they're designed to give community members a chance to put their talents, and their passion, on display.
"I sing in the church choir, but this is different with people from the community. It gives you a lot more variety, and it's fun," said McCaskill who teaches elementary, middle and high school students in Brown County. "It's a wonderful opportunity for people in the community who maybe don't have a church choir to belong to but still enjoy singing. Once you graduate from school, there's not a whole lot of avenues in a small community like ours."
A community survey highlighted the lack of arts/culture opportunities in Brown County, and a grant from the Tracy Family Foundation to the YMCA created a community theater group, spurred more art education in the school system and launched the band and choir in September.
Suzanne Woodward, YMCA branch executive director who plays clarinet in the band, said it's important to offer such opportunities in the community -- partly because they were missed.
"At one time there was a community band, a number of years ago, and people who participated were missing it," she said. "You miss the creation of music with a group of people."
The arts also are an important facet of a well-rounded life.
"The Y supports healthy living, and it isn't just physical," Woodward said. "It's emotional and spiritual as well, and I think the arts contribute to overall health."
The two-year grant provides funding through mid-2014. After that, "we'll have to be self-sustaining or look for other fundraising support," Woodward said.
Twenty-five people from Brown County and the surrounding area play in the band led by John Hogan, a retired band teacher. Another 20, from high school age and up, sing in the choir directed by Lori Berquist, music teacher in the school system.
Several of the band members are former students who "are grown and have time to get out their horns and play," said Hogan, who taught for 35 years in Pike County, Jersey County and at Brown County High School.
"It's an outlet for the arts that we've been lacking here for a number of years. More than anything, people do enjoy music if they have an opportunity to come out and listen to it without having to drive 40-45 miles," Hogan said.
Berquist said it's nice to work with adults in the choir, even if their schedules are busier than most of her students.
"It is hard for adults to commit the time to a weekly rehearsal, but we work with people. If you have to miss once or twice, or every now and then because of another obligation, that's understandable," Berquist said.
The choir practices for an hour on Monday nights. The band does the same on Thursday. Both meet in the high school band room.
Music remains an important part of people's lives, no matter what their age.
"It's important to have activities and outlets that help people find their expressive side, their artistic side to use, to get the benefits that music provides," Berquist said. "Nobody's lives should all be directed to one thing. Everybody needs different outlets to express themselves."
Practice begins in mid-January for the next concert planned for the end of April.
"I'm hoping maybe we pick up some more people by then," Hogan said. "Some people want to see how it goes first before they decide to come into the band."
The Mount Sterling YMCA Community Band and Choir will take the stage for the first time on Sunday, Dec. 2.
The performance begins at 3 p.m. at the Brown County High School Auditorium.
The 25-piece band, led by retired teacher John Hogan, will play six pieces, including marches, a theatrical medley and Christmas songs.
The 20-member choir, led by BCHS director Lori Berquist and accompanied by Kristi Deardorff, will perform five pieces with a focus on Christmas melodies.
More information is available by contacting the YMCA at 773-2230 or mtsterlingymca.net.