Morton Civic Chorus Director Denise Adams can thank her son for her long career with the group. "I had just had my first son, Matthew, when I was approached about directing the chorus in 1985. I had spent the last 10 summers happily directing musicals and orchestras but knew that having a newborn and a husband working nights would make that very difficult. Directing the chorus seemed like a perfect outlet for the creative energy I had spent in community theatre," she said.

The chorus, perhaps best known for its annual Encore performances, which raise money for the Central Illinois Memorial Kidney Fund (CIMKF), presents "Encore ’04" May 25 to 30 at Bradley’s Hartmann Center. This year marks the 33rd year the Morton Civic Chorus has assisted CIMKF, and the 2004 concert celebrates reaching $1 million raised for the charity.

MCC is known for its variety of musical styles and its use of themes, props, movement, and interaction among the chorus members, and Adams said this year’s performance is no different. "Classical, patriotic, Broadway, spiritual, jazz, folk, and operetta all make up this fast-paced, spirited show. People in the audience know this is a show for all ages and that there’s truly something for everyone. Music to celebrate reaching the million-dollar mark is included this year, along with water and boat music tailored to the Alaskan cruise the group is taking in June."

Adams said deciding which songs to include in the group’s repertoire is challenging but also exciting. "The group is so versatile, energetic, and hard working that we’ve been able to try many different types of music. Because the group is actually made up of singers with a purpose, I like to include pieces where the text reflects our commitment to people-music with a message, if you will. Pieces like Aaron Copland’s "Promise of Living" and Randall Thompson’s "Choose Something Like a Star" and "How Can I Keep From Singing?" are part of the Morton Civic Chorus’ statement this year."

She said variety is always a top priority when selecting specific tunes. "It’s not a formula-one of these, one of those-but songs that, when connected together, tell a story without a script. I’m always listening to things and looking for special pieces I know the group would do well. Certainly, I take suggestions from members, but ultimately, it falls on me to pick a program of 30 to 40 songs we can prepare, memorize, and stage that stimulate and challenge the many interests and skill levels of the 85 members."

Morton Civic Chorus doesn’t require auditions, but Adams said that doesn’t mean there aren’t people capable of singing in auditioned choirs. "People choose to sing in our group. They like the ’singing service,’ and they love the musical variety and diverse makeup of the group; we have people from age 19 to 70-plus."

While MCC occupies her nights, during the day Adams can be found at Woodruff High School, where she directs an early bird, auditioned, select ensemble; a freshman girls’ group; and a concert choir. Adams also teaches general music to seventh and eighth graders and directs the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth grade Choraliers singing group at Washington Gifted School.

She said the ages of the members are really the only difference between MCC and the student groups she directs. "The adults come to MCC by choice, but so do high school students. It’s elective, and singers have to really want to participate in choir because it means taking early gym for most students to fit it into their schedule. My students come in at 7 a.m. every day, giving their all and working every bit as hard as the adults at night. I’m blessed to teach wonderful students and enjoy both my experiences very much. Annually, I do a concert where my singers and the Morton Civic Chorus perform together, as well as for each other. This is a great opportunity for some of the masterworks to be sung with 150 voices, like at a big festival. Many of students support the benefit concert in May as well, and luckily for me, some of the kids who stay in the area continue to sing for me."

Not surprisingly, her family is very musical as well; Adams and her husband, Lee Wenger, perform together in the community when they’re able, but with her packed itinerary, including her three children’s activities, it’s not nearly as frequently as she would like. "I don’t have enough long periods of time to do community theatre anymore. Lee and I still do the Irish Review and squeeze in short-term engagements like the Fibber McGee and Molly production at ICC last fall. Lee and I entertain together when schedules allow, and now we’re getting more and more calls for the whole Adams-Wenger family to perform together, which is quite an adventure. All of the kids are evolving into very fine musicians, which is exciting to watch."

Two of the family collaborations are the fall all-school musical at Woodruff, which Adams and her husband direct, and the annual Gilbert and Sullivan Dinner Theatre, which involves all of her Woodruff singers and guest artists from throughout the community. "For Lee and I to both be gone for long periods of time, it has to be a family venture, and our children were involved with the musicals at Woodruff long before they became students. I never needed to look very far for a child to play the youth parts in musicals," she said.

As Adams prepares the Morton Civic Chorus for this year’s milestone concert, she said it’s the people who have kept her coming back for 20 years. "There’s good choral music being sung many places in central Illinois, but I doubt any group has as much fun as we do, all the while raising a lot of money for area kidney patients. People come to our concerts and thank us-people waiting for kidney transplants right here in Peoria, people you and I might know."

The closeness fostered among the group members is another draw, Adams said. "My mother, Monica, was the unofficial mascot for the group until her death in 1999. She died a month before our week-long benefit concerts, and the Morton Civic Chorus members were my strongest support system throughout it all. Chorus members have rallied around the needs of the group for years, and many of us consider those in the chorus our best friends."
Adams said it’s important to note that, contrary to its name, Morton Civic Chorus involves people from locations throughout the tri-country area and even beyond. "We’ve maintained the name out of respect for its beginning, but I want the public to know the people who sing, sit in the audience, and are served are from many area communities."

Tickets for "Encore ’04" cost $10 for adults, with $8 ticket prices for seniors and $5 for children for the May 30 performance. For more information, call 677-4966. AA!