Led by Julie McLeish, the long-standing community choir looks forward to traditions old and new By Taylor Shillam
The Bonners Ferry Community Choir has brought members of the community together in music and fellowship in a tradition lasting over four decades. The non-auditioned community choir was created for anyone who loves to sing. With rehearsals beginning each fall, the choir’s major performance is held every year at Christmastime, a long-standing event known to usher in the holidays for Boundary County.
Bonners Ferry Community Choir's director Julie McLeish was born and raised in Bonners Ferry. She has been with the community choir since 2017, when she moved back to the area from Shelley, Idaho, where she had lived with her husband for the previous nine years. McLeish was familiar with the decades-long traditions the choir held within Bonners Ferry and quickly attended a choir rehearsal upon her return.
When a need for a new choir director arose the following year, McLeish saw an opportunity to make a lifelong dream a reality.
“It was a definite dream of mine for years and years and years to direct a community choir,” McLeish shared. Before moving back to Bonners Ferry, she had been a church choir director for many years. She had always wanted to start a community choir. She stepped into the position and hasn't looked back since. "I love it. I totally love doing it," she said.
Now, looking forward to the future, McLeish has set her sights on growth for the choir, in terms of membership, enhanced offerings, and future collaborations with other pillars of the community.
"Our goal is to expand to offer music theory classes, one or two voice lessons per month, and a once-a-month hymn sing-a-long," McLeish said, looking forward to offering more as an organization in the near future.
McLeish also seeks to join forces with Bonners Ferry Community Orchestra director Glenda Novinger to plan a collaborative event—a long-time goal she hopes to bring to fruition this year. She also plans to work with band and choir teacher George Izzett of Bonners Ferry High School to collaborate with local students.
Now that larger-scale events are back on the calendar, McLeish looks forward to what will be possible in 2022, working with accompanist Jeff Humsaker and the rest of her choir members and team.
Traditionally, the community choir practices and concerts have been held at the Trinity Lutheran Church, which has been a “foundational support for decades,” McLeish said, “and we are very grateful.”
McLeish expressed gratitude in every description of her position. The combination of the timing of her return to Bonners Ferry, her discovery of the community choir, and the open position becoming available so quickly, inspired a feeling that it was all meant to be.
“I never thought I would be back here to direct that choir, so that was a total miracle,” McLeish said. Today, a few years into the position, she has nothing but love for what she does, and who she does it with.
Her favorite part of leading the choir is, without a doubt, the people. “I love the people and getting to know them," she said. "The fun, the laughs we have, the good times, the few tears we share." She described the hard work that goes into every practice, and the incredible feeling when that work pays off in the final performance.
"Every time, the concert is so much better than the practices, and the sound is just incredible," she shared. "Every concert has been so incredible. You work so hard, and it gets a little scary at the end, but then every concert has been like, 'Wow.' At the concert, they sound like angels."
Each annual Christmas concert has featured sacred music. "It’s so wonderful to have the community to come be with us and share in that fellowship," McLeish described. "It feels like a great bonding time for the entire community.”
The Bonners Ferry Community Choir has solidified its place in Boundary County, and with McLeish in her fourth year as the lead, only plans to continue its forward-moving momentum.
"We would love to have more singers," McLeish said. With no auditions held, the choir welcomes anyone, from any faith, who loves to sing. "If you love to sing, we'd love to double or triple our choir members." Those interested in joining the Bonners Ferry Community Choir can contact Julie directly by calling 208.569.5936 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
While choir rehearsals traditionally begin in October, this year, they plan for a meet-and-greet in September to allow members to better get to know each other and the community. More information will be released as the season approaches.