Giving direction to youth…

Norma Preheim majored in piano and music at Bethel College. Here, she sits at the grand piano in the Administration Building Chapel at Bethel College.
Norma Preheim majored in piano and music at Bethel College. Here, she sits at the grand piano in the Administration Building Chapel at Bethel College.

Norma Preheim?s hands danced through the air hundreds, maybe thousands of times, in graceful wave-like motions as she directed the Newton Community Children?s Choir, helping keep the youngsters? melodic voices flowing to the musical beat.

Preheim, 82, did that for many years, both with the community choir and classes she taught in the Newton school district, directing and leading students in singing.

?Ever since I graduated from Bethel in 1954, one of my greatest joys was working with children?s choirs in church and school,? Norma said during a 2001 Life Enrichment program at the college. ?It was an opportune time to be interested in children?s choirs because it was the beginning of a big growth movement in this medium.?

Preheim?s influences in this area of music include Ruth Krehbiel Jacobs, who was founder of the Chorister?s Guild and ?the leader in developing a high standard of sacred music for children,? as well as Helen Kemp, her successor.

The community choir is marking its 25th anniversary this year, and Norma was the one who formed the group. In light of this, there was an anniversary concert Nov. 30 celebrating the founding of NCCC, although the choir probably was formed before that, growing over time.

?It sort of grew out of her teaching,? said her husband, Marles Preheim. ?? If ever there was a starting date, I?m not sure.?

The choir started with third- and fourth-graders primarily from Sunset and Northridge elementary schools, Marles said, where Norma taught vocal music. She also taught at Cooper. The group grew from about 30-40 children to 70-75 some years with the average around 60.

The earliest record of the group performing is Feb. 27, 1988, during the Kansas Music Educators Association In-Service Workshop. Songs in the program included ?Lord Jesus Christ, Thou Prince of Peace,? ?An Die Musik? and ?Alexander?s Ragtime Band.? However, at this time, the choir was called Newton Childrens Choir. The group?s first accompanist was Marcene Entz, followed by Melody Bontrager and then Diane Fast. Karen Sims was Norma?s assistant and choreographer throughout this time.

In addition to the entire choir, Norma also was honored at the Nov. 30 concert.

?They?re simply honoring Norma as founder of the particular organization,? said Marles before the concert.

For this concert, former NCCC members were invited to return to sing. Some of the original members could be in their 30s by now. Children is grades four through eight can join the choir by audition.

Norma Preheim directs a rehearsal of the Newton Community Children?s Choir in 1997 at Camp Hawk. Courtesy photo
Norma Preheim directs a rehearsal of the Newton Community Children?s Choir in 1997 at Camp Hawk. Courtesy photo

Preheim enjoyed her days as NCCC director.

?Well, I have just always loved music, and the kids were just good,? said Norma, smiling.

Norma was director for a number of years ? from around 1988 through 2001, when she had her last performance.

?To be united in a common goal of learning meaningful texts and quality music, and working together to bring these elements to life is a noble cause,? Norma said during a 2001 Life Enrichment presentation. ?I do feel the choir can forever enrich the lives of these students. Expanding their range of friends, their knowledge of music skills and their willingness to persevere to accomplish worthy goals are all a part of that experience.?

However, there is something even more important than that to Norma.

?But by far the most important value for the singers is helping them to feel the power of music ? that amazing, emotionally charged effect that music has on all of us.?

Norma was the group?s volunteer director during the early years, and she brought her music passion to the group.

?I didn?t care (about not getting paid) because I liked it,? she said.

Norma has had a love for music ever since she was young, singing with her sister, just like her mother did before her.

?It?s been a wonderful career for her because she?s always been enamored by early teachers of music,? Marles said.

At Bethel College, Norma was a piano and music major, and has always loved children, teaching and school.

As a matter of fact, her sister, Florene, started a community choir in Colorado and suggested to Norma she do the same.

In addition to having played the piano, Norma performed the clarinet in high school.

Although she likes music, Norma is hard pressed to come up with a favorite song.

?There?s just so many wonderful ones,? Norma said, adding it?s hard to pick a favorite.

With the children?s choir, favorite songs for Norma included sacred, as well as some of the ones performed during that 1988 concert, like ?Alexander?s Ragtime Band.?

During her years as choir director, the children sang many a tune.

?It is important to select music for children that has been well-crafted by trained composers,? said Marles, a retired Bethel College choir professor.

One ?nice thing? Marles and Norma could do with their choirs was have them perform together, Marles said. Select choirs of college students and NCCC members performed together.

?It was nice we could put some of those together,? Marles said.

Another feature of the choir was doing musicals with the children in the spring, such as ?The Wizard of Oz,? ?Charlie Brown? and ?The Music Man.? Instrumentalists from the community, such as Keith Woolery, Donna Woolery, John Banman, Don Kehrberg and Vada Snider, helped with the shows.

Another feather in Norma?s cap with the choir was bringing home many trophies.

?She won virtually every contest that they went to,? Marles said. ?? They came back with some very nice honors.?

They attended children?s choir festivals in a variety of locales, including Chicago, Kansas City, St. Louis and Oklahoma City. The festivals were adjudicated by prominent choral people.

?Some of the fun times which we experience, we hope also benefitted the Newton community, both locally and statewide these past 11 years by helping promote its special projects and activities,? Norma said in 2001.

The fun times also benefitted the children, like former choir member Shawn Stobbe, Newton business owner.

?We all developed friendships through the choir,? he said. ?It was competitive but not in a ?have to be the best? kind of way. Norman had a sense to where she helped us be the best without ever pushing it upon us. The trips we took I?will never forget. Imagine being a youngster riding in a big chartered bus to sing in front of a huge audience. It was thrilling. The one thing I loved the most was something I never realized until later in life. I learned so much, not just about music. Norma would show us how to be good people and leaders. She shaped many lives.?

Stobbe said the choir influenced him in pursuing music later in life.

?Vocal performance has been the main substance of my life even to this day,? Stobbe said. ?Performance was the top priority through high school, college and into my professional performing career. I?think NCCC was the spark that ignited a lifelong passion of music.?

Throughout college, Stobbe studied opera, music composition, musical theater and vocal performance. After college, he performed on cruise ships, and currently, although he said he?s not as practiced, performs at weddings and other events.

Stobbe seems to have a great deal of respect for Preheim.

?Norma is beautiful in so many ways,? he said. ?She could turn a single melody into a work of art by simply showing us the way. Although I?m sure we both didn?t always see eye to eye (I was ornery), she always inspired me, and I?m sure every kid in that choir to sing out and loud. To this day, I?constantly think of her and Karen Sims (many others) for teaching me what music was and how to appreciate it.?

by Wendy Nugent

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