The New Era - All about Sweet Home since 1929

After 35 years, Singing Christmas Tree continues to flourish


November 22, 2016

PAUL ROWTON directs a group 18 Singing Christmas Tree members as they sing Christmas carols at A&W. A&W held a fund-raising event for the Singing Christmas Tree Thursday evening, raising about $260 from A&W and another $40 in cash donations. The money is used to purchase new music, decorations and rental equipment.

Paul Rowton was a Sweet Home music teacher 35 years ago when local musician Connie Nice approached him with an idea.

Nice came to him and told him a choir in Phoenix was no longer using its Christmas tree scaffolding. She asked him if he would direct a choir if she could obtain the scaffolding.

“I never thought she would make it happen,” Rowton said. “Well, she did.”

Nice was coordinator for five years, he said, before moving away.

But the show went on. When choir members mount the Singing Christmas Tree structure next week, it will be the 35th year for the annual event.

The choir will perform its annual Christmas program at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 2 and Dec. 3 and 3 p.m. Dec. 4 in the Sweet Home High School auditorium, 1641 Long St.

Among the 31-member choir are four who have performed 30 years or more. Sue Olson, coordinator, and Clarne Myers have been part of the choir for 30 years. Myers’ husband, Ralph Myers, has been part of it for 20 years.

Linda Rowton has been in the choir for 32 years.

“I get to stand right in the middle,” said Rowton, who is married to Paul, this year’s director. “It’s not because it’s important. It’s because I’m a tenor.”

Paul Rowton is in his 31st year with the choir. He is the only member of the group who was part of the original choir in 1981. He took several years off from directing the choir.

“I would never have guessed it would last 35 years,” Rowton said.

Cathy Rolf succeeded Nice as coordinator and held the position for 10 years. Olson followed her and has been doing it for 20 years.

Reluctant at first, Rowton said he embraced the Singing Christmas Tree the first year for “a lot of reasons.”

He shared one.

“I didn’t come from a hugging family,” Rowton said. The night of the first performance, his father was in the audience. After the show, he squeezed his way through the crowd to find Rowton.

“He came down and gave me a hug,” Rowton said. “I figured if it was that special to him, it would be special to other people.”

Through the years, it has continued to touch people.

Rowton recalled fondly a letter and donation from a student who had moved to Seattle, and “he told us how much it mattered to him.”

The Singing Christmas Tree is important to each of these longtime members for different reasons.

“I love living in a small town,” Linda Rowton said. “There are things that happen in small towns that don’t in big cities. Christmas is still important to us, and hometown entertainment is still important to us.”

It’s special for Olson as well.

“I love Christmas. I love singing. I hadn’t sung since junior high. I came to my first performance – I sat there awestruck and thought, ‘I”m going to go talk to Cathy and join this thing.”

It’s the first thing people do during the Christmas season, Olson said.

“I love music and singing and I decided I wanted to be more involved in community activity,” Clarene Myers said. “Once you get started, you just keep on going.”

The Singing Christmas Tree was something that fit her work schedule at the time, she said.

“I love the message of Christmas,” Ralph Myers said. “I like the chance to give something to the community that’s life-changing. It’s all about the difference Jesus can make in a person’s life. God sent his Son. It’s truly a gift to the community.”

“I love the director too,” he added, mischievously grinning at Paul Rowton. “Well, most of the time.”

“I think traditions like that are important to small communities,” said Kari Bennett, a member of the board and 17-year veteran of the choir. “I love singing.”

She loves knowing people in the crowd and the other members of the tree and “just rehearsing the message of Christmas,” Bennett said.

“Music reaches everyone in some way,” Paul Rowton said. That’s why the Singing Christmas Tree has been so successful for so many years. “Try to watch a scary movie without music.”

The theme this year is “Christmas: The Universal Gift.”

With it comes a lot of new music as well as old favorites, Paul Rowton said. The choir has collected new music during the year, and as it turns out, peace is a recurring part of the program.

“We have a lot of new music this year,” he said. It includes lively, exciting fun songs.

“And some very moving,” Olson said.

A number of them are familiar too, Linda Rowton said, so the audience can sing along.

“There’s an awful lot of in our music this year about peace,” Rowton said. “Lord knows right now we need peace in our country and the world.”

The choir will be accompanied by Bill Langdon on piano and Keith Scofield on cello. Wayne Knox will play Christmas songs on guitar for a half hour prior to each performance.

During intermission, children can meet Santa Claus and get a photo taken.

The event will not have a junior choir this year, for the third time, Olson said, due to the need for help in that area. “It would be really nice if someone wanted to sign up and direct the choir.”

For more information, contact Olson at (541) 367-4639.


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