Southeast Iowa's chorale earns standing ovation at Fall Concert.

Bel Canto Chorale celebrated their 50th anniversary Sunday with its annual Fall Concert. The group began as the Burlington Choir in 1967 and became Bel Canto a year later.

The house was full at the First United Methodist Church in Burlington and Bel Canto was, as always, resplendent in black gown and tuxedos, and this time, each singer sported an orange carnation that looked much like a tiny Halloween pumpkin.

Before the concert began, soprano Gloria DeVilbiss and tenor Terry Strother greeted concertgoers at a small table filled with Bel Canto memorabilia.

DeVilbiss and Strother sang with the group at their inaugural concert as Bel Canto Chorale. Strother shared a framed poster from a 1969 concert.

"I found it about eight years ago when I was organizing some things," Strother said. "I almost threw it out."

The first half of Sunday's show consisted of selections from "The Creation" by Joseph Haydn, which the chorale sang 50 years ago in their first fall concert. Sunday's version included alternating solos by bass Jeff Rucker and tenor Timothy Ahern, supplemented with solos by sopranos Tanya Henman and Beth Meyers.

The chorale sang those same Haydn selections 50 years ago at their first fall concert.

A Bel Canto concert is a bit like a family outing, or perhaps a Sunday morning sermon: audience members can be seen napping, doing a crossword — or maybe it was sudoku — knitting and fanning themselves with the bright yellow programs.

The autumn afternoon sunshine streaming through the southside windows urged a few patrons to use their programs as sun visors.

No one sang along on the Haydn selections because no one knew the words by heart.

After a delightful and engaging set of "Four Robert Burns Ballads," when the ensemble was accompanied by Jason Edwards on oboe, the ensemble sang "Horizons" by Peter Louis van Dijk, a first for Bel Canto.

Pianist Leigh Pirtle joined the chorale for the a capella piece, a modernistic composition featuring vocal sound effects, finger-snapping and rhythmic thigh slaps.

Then came the moment everyone sacrificed their beautiful autumn afternoon to experience: DeVilbiss and Strother singing together on the Moses Hogan arrangement of the spiritual,"This Little Light of Mine."

Wow.

Strother is as good a spiritualist as anyone, and when DeVilbiss uncorks her pipes, stand back.

The pair received a well-earned ovation, then a second, standing ovation to hoots, whistles and wows.

Director Jacob Yochum stood and applauded with the crowd, beaming like a kid on Christmas morning.

"Oh, my," Yochum said later. "That was such a special moment, the two of them together after all these years. Wow."

A very short "Fanfare" by Sandra Chapman and Rich McKinney closed the afternoon quite nicely.

"That one holds a special place in the hearts of many singers and audience-goers in the Bel Canto Chorale community," Yochum said. "For countless concerts over the past 35 years since its composition, it has closed the program for our ensemble."

Everyone was smiling as they filed out of the pews to congratulate DeVilbiss, Strother and the chorale members.

"This shows we're good for another 50 years," Yochum said. "We've got momentum."

He added that, in addition to working with veterans in the chorale, it was a treat to welcome this year's newcomers to the group.

Singing their first concert with Bel Canto on Sunday were altos Bobbi Huebner, Victoria Keltner and Alicia Schiller-Haynes, and tenors Chuck Griffin and David Scott.

Scott, Bel Canto's longtime audio engineer, recorded the concert for fans to listen to in 2068 when Bel Canto celebrates its centennial.