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The past and the present: Chorale performs Dec. 11, 2023


Photo of the Mark Twain Chorale, likely in the early 1960s. Photo contributed by Richard Griffen.


MARY LOU MONTGOMERY


The historic sanctuary of Hannibal’s Fifth Street Baptist Church, 111 N. Fifth, will provide an apt backdrop for the Mark Twain Chorales’ annual Christmas concert, at 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 11.


These choral singers are joined together solely by their mutual love of music. They will be led this year by Allen Means, in what - since the choir’s inception in 1961 - continues to be a time-honored Hannibal holiday tradition.


The original director was Gilbert Froman, remembered by some as “Mr. Music,” and by others, simply “Gib.”


He worked for the Hannibal Public Schools for more than four decades, drawing harmony out of high school singers.


In 1960, he came up with the concept of an adult men’s choral ensemble, and by Christmas 1961, the new group was ready for its first holiday concert. Women joined later.


Richard Griffen, a chorale member since 1971, has a collection of photos of the chorale, assembled over the years by his father, Dan Griffen, who died in 2021 at the age of 98. The elder Mr. Griffen was a charter member of the group.


“These photos bring up memories of the formidable people of the past who built upon the chorale’s legacy,” Richard Griffen said.


“Montie Perkins had a beautiful tenor voice. He was a mail carrier. He sang a solo part in ‘Oh Holy Night’ for years and years,” Griffen said.


“Jim Hafner, (1926-1983) a bass singer, he sang right up to the very end. He knew it would be his last concert. He loved the crowd. When that last concert was over, he stood off in a corner of the stage and watched the crowd leave. He enjoyed the moment. It was touching.


“Charles Rendlen (1919-2006) was a charter member; I went to school with his son. It was a hometown kind of situation.


“The five people I remember the most,” Griffen said, “they were always there, and were so good to me. They had a ‘quartet’ called the Twain Towners. They would sing anywhere and everywhere. They billed themselves as the world’s largest quartet.”


They were Dr. Phillip Foreman (1926-2022), his brother, G.W. (Willie) Foreman (1927-2019), Dale Bradshaw (1920-2004), Roy Stout (1931-2002) and Danny Joe Griffen (Richard’s father, (1923-2021).


“They were such good men, and so much fun. It was an honor just to be in the same room with them. They would get together and sing whenever they were asked. I have a picture (of them) singing. When we do a concert, I put that picture in my breast pocket so those guys can come to the concert, too,” Richard Griffen said.


While all the members of the “Twain Towners” have passed, the “family” tradition of the Mark Twain Chorale continues. “This year we have four members of the Foreman family - grandkids - singing in the holiday concert,” Griffen said.


“The original guys were so dedicated, they loved to sing so much. I would overhear things.  Montie Perkins' mother passed away on a Monday; he came (to practice) that night. Gilbert said, ‘You didn’t have to come.’

“Perkins responded, ‘I didn’t have another place to go.’ It was therapeutic, and he loved to sing.


“There are so many stories of people passing through the chorale, singing a few years and moving on. A wide variety of people … Judge Elgin Fuller (1907-1980), Dorothy Davidson (1923-2021) … people who did very well in their careers. Such a variety of people.


“There was always joking, laughter, a wicked sense of humor. They were always cracking jokes.”


Recruits

“Mr. Froman would recruit really good singers from the high school, young men and young women who sang with the chorale.” Griffen remembers a few: Jim Downs, Randy Richardson, Terry Fields, and Dr. Bach’s daughter, Laurie Bach Knight. Another HHS graduate, Dennis Glascock, of the Hydesburg area, was also among those recruited.


“I was in the Hannibal school choir,” Glascock said. “I was going into the 11th or 12th grade, and  John Haymaker, he invited me to join. Mr. Froman was the director, and Dr. Foreman and Willie Foreman were members.”


While Richard Griffen joined the chorale not long after high school, he insists that he was not recruited. “I just showed up,” he said. “Those guys were so accepting, once you started singing with them you were part of the chorale.


“Back in the old days, some of the guys (at the rehearsals) grabbed ashtrays and smoked and sang at the same time.


“You don’t see too much choral singing anymore,” Griffen said. “The Mark Twain Chorale provides an opportunity to sing in a choral group. It’s a social event, everybody talks and has a good time; that’s the social aspect.”


End of era

“We weren’t sure what would happen when Mr. Froman passed away (in1997), but other people picked it up and kept it going,” Griffen said.


One member singing in the chorale’s first concert is a member of the current chorale. “Larry Craig - he was in high school and his father was singing (back in 1961). He was in the first concert, then pursued a military career.”


Today, both Richard Griffen, and his wife, Jane Griffen, are members of the Mark Twain Chorale. Jane retired as assistant professor of music for Hannibal-LaGrange University in 2020, was formerly director of the chorale.


Monday’s concert will feature the following:

Sopranos: Ellie Allen, Ramona Barker, Aubrey Bunge, Lori Colborn, Elaina Foreman, Nichole Foreman, Linda Hayden, Lanett Jauss, Lorri Monteen, Andrea Reinwald and Linda St. Juliana.


Altos: Dottie Asmussen, Becky Backhaus, Adriana Brown, Dianne Campbell, Connie Craig, Stephanie Cunningham, Aleeta Darland, Sarah Davenport, Janet Ferguson, Jane Griffen, Patty Martin, Connie Melloway, Darby Morgan and Lynn Zielinski.


Tenors: Jeff Asmussen, Don Colborn, Larry B. Craig, Wendell Kreider, Steve Martin and Gregory St. Juliana.


Baritones: John Ferguson, Isaac Foreman, Benjamin Foreman and Richard Griffen.


Bases: Jim Dewey, Paul Monteen and Ron Thompson.


The program will open with “Carol of the Bells, Ukrainian Carol,” and will conclude “Hallelujah Chorus” from “The Messiah.”





The Mark Twain Chorale in performance, 1967. Photo contributed by Richard Griffen.



Members of the Twain Towners, from left, Dr. Foreman, Willie Forman, Dale Bradshaw, Roy Stout and Dan Griffen. Photo contributed by Richard Griffen.



The Mark Twain Chorale celebrated its 30th anniversary with a concert at the Orpheum Theatre. Pictured are charter members of the chorale, from left, Charles Rendlen, Roy Stout, Dale Bradshaw, Gilbert Froman, director, Danny Griffen, Montie Perkins and Dr. Philip Foreman. Willie Foreman was not present for this photo. (Courier-Post photo by Kim Athon) Photo contributed by Richard Griffen.





The Mark Twain Chorale presented a concert in honor of the United States’ Bicentennial in 1976. the concert was staged at the Presbyterian Church. Photo contributed by Richard Griffen.

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