Through the decades, the voices of hundreds of men blended together in song to both worship God and care for their fellow man.
Kansas Mennonite Men’s Chorus will present a concert at 7 p.m. April 15 in Memorial Hall at Bethel College in North Newton.
KMMC concerts are free with an offering collected to benefit the global relief work of Mennonite Central Committee. Over the years, KMMC has donated more than $600,000 to MCC.
Buhler High School vocal music teacher Greg Bontrager has directed the chorus for 11 years.
“For me, it’s a big stress release from my real job,” Bontrager said. “It’s just a joy to work with the guys.”
The group is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
“The men’s choir started because of the MCC sale,” Bontrager said. “Some guys decided they wanted to sing together and they just kept doing it.”
Nearly 300 men make up the group, some of whom have sung in concerts since KMMC’s beginning.
“It’s just definitely a unique experience,” Bontrager said. “You don’t see this many men singing together very often.”
Choir members range in age from 11 to 91 years old, with the average hovering around 64, Bontrager noted. Some members have three generations of a family represented in the choir.
“What’s nice about the men now is it’s definitely many denominations and non-denominations. That’s the big thing that I think is cool; we’re getting more guys involved. It still is predominately Mennonite, but there are a lot of guys who are not.”
KMMC members rehearse beginning in January of each year, but not all of the chorus members are Kansas residents.
“Quite a number of years, we’ll have people from Oklahoma and Colorado,” Bontrager said.
KMMC members volunteer their time and pay for their own music and transportation costs, coming to the rehearsals when they can and otherwise learning the music on their own time.
“You just have faith it’ll all come together,” Bontrager laughed. “It usually does.”
While the chorus is noted for its singing, smaller groups take up instruments to play everything from sacred music to bluegrass tunes.
“I’m trying to show that we can sing the traditional hymns, but we can move into more of the contemporary music also,” Bontrager said.
A string chamber ensemble, blues group and the “Men O’ Brass” also play with the chorus, and the Bethel College Men’s Ensemble will join them at the Newton concert.
“We have a lot of variation, some a cappella, some with just piano,” Bontrager said. “I think there’s something that everyone will enjoy.”
KMMC opens each concert with “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name” and ends with “The Blessing of Aaron.”
The group is looking forward to returning to perform at Bethel College this year.
“That feels like home for us; that’s always our biggest concert,” Bontrager said.
New members are welcome to join the group.
“This is ‘come, y’all, and sing,’” Bontrager said. “It’s just men singing together who have a love of music and Christ. ...Any guy that likes to sing, we’d love to have him. There’s always an open invitation.”
For more information about KMMC, visit https://www.ksmenschorus.org.