Upper St. Clair choir alumni to return for concert

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Last year, Beth Foss, a member of the Upper St. Clair Class of 1981, returned to Pittsburgh for the first time in 30 years for a reunion to honor choir director Robert J. Gielas, who taught at Upper St. Clair High School from 1969 to 1981.

The reunion was such a success that this weekend about 100 of Upper St. Clair's singing choir alums from as far away as Texas and California are gathering again to carol, rehearse and perform.

They will hold a free concert, with some songs under the direction of Mr. Gielas, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Bethel Park.

The former choir members became reacquainted on Facebook in August 2012 when Steven Franz, class of 1979, discovered that Mr. Gielas was on Facebook.

"At that point, I think he had about eight Facebook 'friends,' " Ms. Foss said.

Through social networking, some alumni joined forces to contact former choir members and plan the first reunion, inviting and dedicating it to Mr. Gielas.

The number of Mr. Gielas' Facebook friends grew to about 250.

"Mr. Gielas saw [his students] as this massive potential. He expected us to act like professionals," recalled Ms. Foss, who now lives in Naples, Fla. "To come back last year, it was the happiest group of people."

"I took students who didn't know what they had and brought it out," recalled Mr. Gielas, 73, who retired from teaching in 1993 and lives in McMurray. "I was a strict disciplinarian. With 140 in a class, it was necessary."

Actress, singer and writer Ann Talman, class of 1975, will travel from her home in New York City to perform in Saturday's concert. She said Mr. Gielas inspired his students to be successful.

"He was the most influential person in my life. He taught me everything I needed to know about being a professional actress and singer," she said.

Ms. Talman has appeared in several Broadway and off-Broadway productions, including "The Little Foxes," in which she played the daughter of Elizabeth Taylor's character. She has also appeared in episodes of "Seinfeld" and "Murphy Brown" and in films, including "Wall Street."

"Directing the choir was my life, and this is like a revival of what I used to do all the time," Mr. Gielas said.

During his tenure as director, the students performed Bach and Schubert along with songs of the time, such as "Jesus Christ Superstar." All of his approximately 2,000 students learned the choir's theme song, "Shenandoah."

"At the last reunion, they were all from different years, but they had this bond because the music brought them together. When they sang this song, it was like they were all from the same choir," said Mr. Gielas, who has spent much of the last year writing and arranging music for the upcoming performance.

He will direct several of the numbers.

The 90-minute concert will feature soloists, a drummer and guitarists. Former French teacher and organist George McClintock will accompany the group, and the current members of Upper St. Clair's Chanteclairs will perform.

One of the Christmas selections the choir will sing will be the "Hallelujah" chorus of Handel's "Messiah," with the audience invited to sing along.

Former choir president David Brewton, class of 1977, will conduct carols and a song he wrote called "Psalm 27."

Most of the returning alumni graduated in the early- to mid-1970s, said Ms. Foss, but some younger graduates will take part.

Steven Franz, a dentist who still lives in Upper St. Clair, will perform for the first time with his sons, Steven, class of 2008, and Bruce, class of 2011.

"It's going to be a thrill; we'll be singing in the bass section together," he said.

"I am so overwhelmed," Mr. Gielas said. "They gave ... as young people and they are still giving, and it's so rewarding."

Laurie Bailey, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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