DUNEDIN — One recent afternoon a group of 25 men and women holding song sheets stood in the Christmas-adorned lobby of the Belleair Towers, a senior independent living facility in Belleair. Dressed in black and white with sparkly red bowties or ribbons reflecting a holiday spirit, they lifted their voices and belted out Go Tell the News.
All looked to their director, pianist and fellow singer, JoAnn Metropoulos, who appears to multi-task with ease.
"I use one hand to play, and direct with the other," she said, rhythmically moving her hand over her head.
The singers that day were among some 40 members of the International Chorale of Dunedin, a volunteer group that performs at local retirement communities, churches and private parties. They've taken their voices and enthusiasm overseas as well — to churches and cathedrals in Italy, Greece, Spain, Russia, Croatia and even aboard cruise ships.
Metropoulos, an organist, pianist and the volunteer director, said the chorale is a labor of love.
"It's inspiring," she said of the eclectic musical styles they perform, including seasonal, folk and popular. "We also sing patriotic music and old favorites, such as Can't Give You Anything but Love, which the retirement home residents enjoy."
Her husband, John, an engineer as well as a cantor and soloist at the Ascension Church in Clearwater, sings tenor in the chorale. John said the group has no budget but lots of talent. Some are professionally trained and others just love to sing.
One of the latter is Bev Peck, who sang in her high school chorus and now sings in her church choir. She has been in the chorale for four years.
"JoAnn was the organist at my church when we met and (she) spoke so much about the chorale I wanted to join," Peck said. "I have loved it ever since."
JoAnn and John Metropoulos, who now live in Dunedin, moved from Chicago to St. Petersburg in the 1970s and started the chorale under the name "Orpheus" in 1985. John directed that first chorus, which included people of all religions and nationalities. The common thread was the love of song.
"We did strictly Greek folk songs then," said the Greek-born director. "I taught them Greek phonetically."
By the late '90s, Orpheus had expanded and the name was changed to the International Chorale of Dunedin, which uses the acronym INCH. JoAnn became the director of the new chorale.
"We were getting more and more people who wanted to sing different kinds of music," she said. "Now we always try to do several international songs, seasonal songs and old favorites like Sentimental Journey."
Over the years solo numbers and duets have been added. Residents at the Belleair Towers were treated to a solo of Oh Holy Night in French, a Greek folk song sung in Greek, and a humorous duet called Friendship.
The chorale has made other changes. The first rehearsals were held at the Emmanuel Community Church in Dunedin, where the chorale also gave an annual benefit concert. The proceeds, Metropoulos said, went to various charities, including the RCS Food Bank.
Current rehearsals are held Monday evenings at Holy Apostles Church in Dunedin.
Church music also occupied much of JoAnn Metropoulos' life. She spent several decades as musical director and organist at local churches, most of which were Catholic.
"I did everything at those churches," she said. "I sometimes did five masses a weekend."
She traveled to the Vatican with church groups and once directed close to 100 singers in a performance there.
Now she is focused on the chorale.
"We want to continue singing for retirement homes, assisted living facilities and local clubs," she said. "We also plan to keep traveling and singing abroad."
The chorale charges $150 for a half-hour performance and $200 for an hour at private organizations and facilities. Freewill offerings are accepted for church concerts, the proceeds of which usually go to local charities. Metropoulos uses some of the funds for sheet music, but all participants pay their own expenses for travel and clothing.
The multi-talented director said she hopes to spread the word about the chorale.
"We would like to show people all the cultural aspects of our group," she said. "We take pride in the great variety of music and talent we offer."