On a Tuesday evening last spring, the performance of the Lake Highlands Songbirds, under the direction of Patsy Brooks, was anything but routine. After all, it was only the third time the chorus had performed in public.
As trite as it may sound, it has often been said that music has the power to make us laugh, sing or cry. The women who make up this ensemble did just that as they brought a member of the audience to tears following a performance for Circle of Friends, an organization for mentally challenged adults.
“The reaction from a young girl, who afterward didn’t say a word, but who walked up to a couple of us, and with tears in her eyes hugged us, and then of course we got choked up…we all had to pull ourselves back together,” Brooks recalls.
There was plenty of joy to go around that evening.
“They were wonderful. We were singing “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” and they just loved it,” Brooks says. “They all stood up and sang and got really involved in it. They laughed and said funny things. Everybody had a wonderful time.”
What’s more, the Songbirds made sure to enjoy themselves following the concert as well, going out for margaritas and Mexican food afteward.
Terri Woods, a member of the Songbirds, has great respect for Brooks.
“I don’t know why she puts up with some of our nonsense, because we were really slow to get started. Even though we met, we were really ‘iffy’ the first six months to a year, and I think we all just started taking it seriously in the last six months, and really got cohesive.”
Now, the Songbirds rehearse on Mondays at 4 p.m. for an hour-plus at Brooks’ Towncreek home. That consistency and cohesiveness is perhaps what attracts such a wide variety of women from many walks of life into the group, from musicians, to retired schoolteachers, to a CPA and a pastoral counselor. There are 16 Songbirds total.
“The core group is a women’s social group called Towncreek Women’s Club. Most of us were members of that group,” Woods says. “When Patsy showed up, she kept wanting to start this little singing group, and slowly, but surely it has happened.”
Brooks, a private voice instructor in the Lake Highlands schools and a director of three local church choirs, not only founded the Songbirds two years ago, but brought leadership and experience to the group.
“I directed Skylarks when my husband was in the military. They’re an officer’s wives club singing group,” she says. “So I had a lot of music from that, and I was the music director at a girl’s school in Hawaii. This is why I had all the three-part women’s music.”
When the Songbirds formed, they intended members to broaden the public’s awareness of the good things that happen in Lake Highlands.
“We call ourselves the Lake Highlands Songbirds because we wanted this to be a goodwill ambassador group for the Lake Highlands area – one more example of why Lake Highlands is absolutely a wonderful place to live,” Woods says. “We also picked up several members in the Lake Highlands Area [Improvement Association] newsletter. We put out a blurb about the Songbirds, and we picked up a couple of people from that. And a couple of gigs,” she laughs.
Jones explains that the Songbirds typically perform for meeting and church groups that want some entertainment, because their program is about 20-30 minutes long. They are also self-supporting, but do accept donations to offset expenses.
Some of those costs include trips that the Songbirds have taken to North Carolina to sing with the Virginia Songbirds, a trip they hope to continue making on an annual basis.
As for the music, the Songbirds love to sing many types of music, ranging from lyrical Appalachian-type folk tunes. Patriotic music is also a favorite.
And while the Songbirds have no formal requirements for membership, they do expect the women who join to do one thing: have fun.
“We’re a singing group with a social problem,” Brooks jokes of the Songbirds, who perform one or two times a month. “Or maybe we’re a social group with a singing problem.”
And while having fun is a main objective, there is another, Brooks adds.
“We do have a mission, and that is to bring joy into people’s lives.”