Viterbo University Strides Magazine Online

Viterbo College Strides Magazine Winter 99

A musical gift - Viterbo College music major Beth Parker
gives of herself so others can enjoy her passion
“To reach them and to teach them.”

That was the goal of Viterbo College senior music major Beth Parker when she began her duties as volunteer director of the five-member Riverfront Singers a little over a year ago.

That goal, and much more, has been realized as Parker and her charges have not only expanded to 20 members, but also have been invited to perform at many community events, which says something for their musical ability.

Not bad for a group of singers who have only been at it for a year.

But to know just how much Parker and this group has accomplished, one has to go back a year to when the Riverfront Singers were formed. You see, this isn’t your typical singing group, and Parker knew that going in.

“There was a posting on the music floor (in the Viterbo College Fine Arts Center) asking for someone interested in working with people with developmental or severe physical disabilities, so I called,” Parker said. “When I started, singing was just a part of the weekly activities at Riverfront. We then decided to get more organized and do some concerts. I knew it would be challenging, but it was a great opportunity to teach something I love to a group that was so willing to learn.”

That’s when the real story begins.

Referred to by many as a group that has come together much like the one in “Sister Act,” a movie starring Whoopi Goldberg about a faux nun on the lam who turns an inner-city high school group into the state’s top singing group, the Riverfront Singers have come together out of a shared love of music and a desire to sing.

They haven’t set their minds on being the best in the state, they have committed themselves to being the best they can be. And that’s okay with Parker.

“Our main goal is to just have fun,” said Parker, who recently finished a semester at Longfellow Middle School as a student teacher of choir and general music. “A year ago, they were timid. Now, they feel like they are a part of a special choir.”

They’re just that to Parker, who had to learn how to reach each group member, which wasn’t an easy task at first.

“When I first started, I came in looking at it technically,” Parker said. “I was looking for perfect pitch and rhythm. It didn’t take me long to realize that wasn’t going to happen.”

That’s when Parker changed things. It was at that time that she began to see an amazing transformation.

“It’s laid back now and I’ve looked at it in a whole different light,” Parker said. “Once I let back, they trusted me and let me in and we’ve gotten so much better. It’s not about awards and grades here. People are here to express themselves in the music. When they could relax, that’s when the pitch and the rhythm started to come.”

Pam Solberg, Director of Development at Riverfront, said she saw the transformation and cannot say enough about Parker’s commitment to the Riverfront Singers.

“We are wonderfully blessed to have her here,” Solberg said. “She respects and enjoys the people for who they are and has the ability to bring out everything they can be. That’s a unique gift.”

“It’s really amazing that a college student is willing to take on a volunteer commitment of this size,” she added. “It says a lot about her, but also about Viterbo College and the values they promote.”

While Parker has turned a group of people with disabilities into quite the singing group in her tenure as volunteer director, it’s not the only thing she has achieved. Along the way, the group gained confidence and self-esteem, which for most, was missing from their lives, and that’s special for Parker.

“It’s great,” she said. “It’s neat to see that we can do this and have more confidence. It gives them something to be proud of, to brag about. Singing gives them something to hold onto.”

And for Parker?

“It gives me the best feeling inside,” she said. “They give me so much. They can get me in a good mood quicker than anything.

“And for a music teacher to hear ‘we couldn’t do this without you,’ and ‘you taught me how to sing,’ well, that’s the greatest thing.”