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‘For the love of music’
Bel Canto director celebrates 15 years
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Bel Canto Singers Director Allen Redford runs the performers through “Like a River in My Soul” during a practice at United Presbyterian Church in Monroe on April 14. Redford celebrates his 15th year at the helm of the longstanding choral group, which marks its 40th year in the fall. - photo by Bridget Cooke

MONROE — It all began with a few friends sitting around in a living room.

Nearly 40 years later, the Bel Canto Singers are a group of 33 and whose voices can fill the space of United Presbyterian Church with the help of accompanist Renee Setterstrom. One of its founders, Bobbie Bernet, said the group has seen “a lot of fine musicians through the years” who come from communities throughout Green County and northern Illinois.

They also have director Allen Redford, who marks the 2019 spring concert as his 15th year with the singers. Redford formerly served as director of choral music at Highland Community College in Freeport. Despite retirement, he still seeks the task of overseeing choirs, juggling the Bel Canto Singers while directing the St. John’s United Church of Christ choir.  

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Members of the Bel Canto Singers, including founders Hans and Bobbie Bernet, and Steve Streiff and George Vernon, run through a piece by Stephen Sondheim during a practice April 14. - photo by Bridget Cooke

“Choir singing is such a wonderful thing,” Redford said. “Music is a great and glorious gift. The first musical instrument is the voice, and so being associated with a group of singers is a great joy.”

He added that Monroe “has so many talented singers” and noted Bel Canto has impressive performers. 

“We’re never going to be perfect, and no group is ever going to be perfect, but we’re always striving for as close to perfection as we can come,” Redford said. “…We’re all doing it for the love of music.”

During a snowy Sunday in April, the group convened for one of its bimonthly practices at the Presbyterian church. Redford led the singers in a circle at first, sitting at the center to better hear every voice as they ran through the songs that will be performed during the spring concert May 5 at Monroe Arts Center.

Choir singing is such a wonderful thing. Music is a great and glorious gift. The first musical instrument is the voice, and so being associated with a group of singers is a great joy.
Allen Redford, Bel Canto Singers director

The singers will be performing a piece by Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim as part of its continued Great American Songbook series. They will also be singing an original piece titled “Vesper,” with the help of its composer, Patrick Beckman. 

The song is an accompaniment to a poem by award-winning poet Dan Smith, who wrote the lyrics as an ode to the agricultural landscape of southern Wisconsin and northwestern Illinois. Bernet referred to the poem as somewhat like a farmer’s prayer for the land given to him.

“There’s something about making music together; the sum is greater than the parts,” Bernet said.

If you go ...

The Bel Canto Singers will perform their spring concert. The Monroe Brass Quintet will also perform.

■  When: 3 p.m. Sunday, May 5

■  Where: Monroe Arts Center

■  Info: Bobbie Bernet: 608-325-4914

Bel Canto will be joined by the Monroe Brass Quintet during the show.

Bernet said Redford has served the group well in the 15 years he has helmed the choir. She said he has talent in “bringing out the best in singers” and creating a sound more extraordinary than the performers thought it could be when they first tuck into a piece.

“He’s an inspiring director,” Bernet said. “His musical instincts and his musical training make him just a superb director. His rehearsals are enjoyable — they’re energetic — and you always come out singing a lot better than you did.”