Source: Casey S. Elliott | Urbana Daily CitizenThe Guys N Dolls practiced Monday, Dec. 5, at the Urbana Champaign County Senior Center for the annual Christmas program on Thursday. This year will be the last year that Director Jacquelyn Howell and her accompanist Sue Maurice will put on the show, though they will still work together putting on performances for the Urbana United Methodist Church.
Longtime Urbana choir organizers Jacquelyn Howell and Sue Maurice are bowing out of the local choir group Guys N Dolls and the organizing of several choir programs throughout the year.
The pair will continue to be part of their church choir.
Howell, a retired Urbana City Schools vocal music teacher, and her friend Maurice, a piano player, have been partners in music for more than a decade. Howell got involved in the Guys N Dolls several years ago, when the organizer for the Dancin’ Dolls said the Urbana Champaign County Senior Center needed a choir, as it had in the past.
“I said, well, there’s one stumbling block. That would be if I cannot get my friend Sue to be the accompanist,” Howell said. “I so, therefore, went to Sue and twisted her arm.”
“Did I laugh at you? I do that a lot,” Maurice said. “When it was explained to me the focus would be doing Christmas (programs), go to nursing homes and perform, I said OK, you can count me in. It went from there.”
Howell started with auditioning members of the choir; the first group had about 13 people. She stopped doing auditions eventually, as she felt they wouldn’t be needed.
“It’s my philosophy that anybody can sing if they are taught,” she said.
The Guys N Dolls perform throughout the year in the county, though they had to build up to a Christmas program. The group has approximately 40 members now, though they’ve had as many as 52, Howell said.
At Christmas, the group performs at the senior center and at the request of area nursing homes. This year’s show will be at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Senior Center, 701 S. Walnut St. There is no charge to attend.
Keep on singing
“My goal is to keep America singing,” Howell said. “It’s a lost art.”
Howell has conducted choirs for 45 years. She holds a degree in vocal music.
“I love music. It’s a passion of mine,” Howell said. And the best compliment she’s received is the look on the faces of those who perform, and the audience, after a show.
“There are people who come in with walkers, with oxygen tanks. They are stumbling in. And then when they sing, 20 years fall off them.”
Though Maurice never studied music professionally, she learned to play the piano and and believes she should share her knowledge.
“It’s important to share the gift I’ve been given,” she said. “It creates a moment for people to get together and sing, socialize, and gives a purpose for both them and me.”
Busy schedules prompt retirement
Howell said she decided it was time to retire from the Guys N Dolls after realizing she was spending a lot more time than she wanted working on it.
“Some times of the year it gets really hectic,” Howell said, and she and Maurice agreed it is hard to retire from the group.
Maurice said the time demands on herself were getting to be too much, between the Guys N Dolls and her church choir work.
“Because we have to be here every Monday night (for practice), it limits what I can do,” she said. “I have grandchildren in sports, or there’s school assemblies, and they all seem to fall on that day.”
“I still enjoy doing it,” Howell added. “I like to step down from something when I still enjoy it. When I was a teacher, I didn’t want to be one of those that sat in the teacher’s lounge counting the days ‘til they were done. I didn’t want to be counterproductive on this either. I wanted to step down while I was still enjoying it, before it becomes too tedious.”
Guys N Dolls original member Richard Todhunter said he has always been singing, and he was one of the ones who had to audition to join back when the group started. He said he loves singing and he’s not sure the group will continue without Howell and Maurice.
“I told her I’d retire when she does,” he said.
Fellow member Pat Detwiler said she has been singing with the group since she retired in the early 2000s.
“She’s a fantastic director. She expects a lot,” she said of Howell. “She knows how to pull music out of a turnip, and Sue can stay right with her on everything.
“I’m going to miss it terribly,” Detwiler added. “I don’t know where they could find anybody to take their place.”
The pair are not completely giving up choir. They will continue to work together at the Urbana United Methodist Church choir.
Howell said she won’t miss all the extra hours and work that needed to be done for every performance, from choosing the music to preparing CDs for the choir participants to help them prepare for a performance. Maurice agreed with that.
Both Howell and Maurice said they would miss the people.
“I will miss the people and seeing the joy on their faces,” Howell said. “When they stop grumbling about how hard the music is, then they get it and hear themselves, to see the reaction from the audience – that is what I will miss.”
Casey S. Elliott may be reached at 937-652-1331 ext. 1772 or on Twitter @UDCElliott.