A couple decades, and change: Vivace Live and Standing Room Only

By on April 3, 2019

Two musical groups with local connections are at crossroads that have them changing with the times. Vivace Live and Standing Room Only (SRO) have different repertoires and perform before widely different audiences. The changes they make will extend the outreach for one and the careers of the other.

Vivace got its start as a women’s classical quartet in 2009 with founder Sara Irvine and three of her young music students. SRO, a group of close friends, came together as a singing/entertainment group in the early 1990s, performing at retirement communities. Both groups are making adjustments to what they do and how they do it to meet the changing tastes of their audiences and the skills of their members.

Vivace’s lead violin player, Julianna Youndt Rockelman, an Ephrata native who now lives in Lititz, is one of the group’s founding members. She is a core member of the quartet who helps manage the operation with Irvine. Rockelman smiles when she talks about her journey as a musician. She started playing violin at age six and studying with Irvine from age eight.

“I was just a 12-year old kid when I played my first wedding with the quartet,” says Rockelman. “It’s been 10 years now and a big part of my life. It’s my career. Who’d have thought?”

Vivace Live members are (left to right) Mark Witmer, Ephrata, drums; Julianna Youndt Rockelman, violin, Lititz; Director Sara Irvine, violin, Lancaster; Taylor Courtney, DJ, Manheim; Ephrata native Emily Martin Brown, violin; and Jessie Mitchell, cello, Lititz.

Although, many times, change can be stressful, the Vivace musicians and the SRO entertainers are excited about their new repertoire and plans for the future.

Carol Row, of Lititz, at 80, one of SRO’s newest members and a long-time baritone with Sweet Adelines, describes her move to SRO.

“I was ready for a group that’s focused on entertaining and not competition,” Row says. “We are welcomed at retirement communities and service groups who are very appreciative. And any donations to the group go to support musical education at the local schools.”

Vivace’s founder and director is the daughter of Dr. Kenneth Laudermilch, director of the New Holland Band and a retired music professor at West Chester University. He introduced Irvine to the violin at age three and she hasn’t stopped playing since. The original Vivace quartet included Irvine with Rockelman; Katherine Denlinger, age 16 at the time, from Lititz, on violin; and Susanna Beringer, age 16 at the time, from Stevens, on cello. The girls played at weddings and social events, sharpening their performance skills, pleasing audiences and earning some extra money for college doing something they enjoyed.

SRO members, including many retired educators, now range in age from 70 to 86. They first performed at a Christmas play at St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Lancaster, nearly 30 years ago. Sandie Munro, one of the founders who came up with the group’s name, explains SRO’s growth.

“The show was such a success that we had calls from local churches wanting us to bring it to their congregations,” she says. “We did it and had such fun that when we started to get calls to entertain as a group, we all said let’s do it.”

Joan Pollack, a retired school nurse living in Millersville, has been singing with SRO for 20 years. The alto says the group is special and everyone really enjoys their time in front of retirement and service groups in the area.

SRO has done up to a dozen shows yearly, including regular stops at the United Zion Retirement Community, Luther Acres, Brethren Village, and Moravian Manor. Their shows include singing and dancing, and the themes have run the gamut from seasonal to the works of women composers, music of the 60s, as well as patriotic pieces and songs from across America.

SRO has remained pretty much intact since its founding, only adding new members when someone retired because of health or age. The last new singers joined the group in 2016.

Now, with many SRO members older than their audience and stopping all together out of the question, Munro explains, “We had to made some adjustments to our shows so we could keep going.”

For Vivace, Irvine explains, “Change is almost part of being a musical group.”

She says players, audience music preferences, and venues change.

“Fortunately,” she continues, “we are able to use our classical training and instruments dating back centuries to relate to today’s culture of music.”

Vivace, like many quartets, added members to keep up with the growing demand for what has become classical crossover music.

The group’s eclectic offerings now resonate with a variety of music lovers, including pop, jazz, folk, Celtic, and film. Besides the traditional violin, viola and cello of classical quartets, Vivace Live musicians now include flute, guitar, brass, piano and percussion, allowing them to play at a variety events with audiences of different ages and tastes.

“With the help of my father, who took out a restaurant placemat ad for us, we performed 25 weddings our first 12 months,” Irvine says. “Now, we book about 125 engagements a year, which include corporate events, parties and fundraisers where we play music of recognizable, popular bands like U2, the Beatles, and Coldplay.”

The group also appears regularly at Tellus360, Lancaster’s largest band venue.

Standing Room Only is comprised of (front row, left to right) Bonnie Eshbach, Julie Mongiovi, Carol Atherholt, Sandie Munro and Sug Kottmeyer; (back, l-r) Carol Row, Diane Huber, Cindy Smith, Sandy Miller, Judy VanAulen, Paulie Bird and Joan Pollock. (Photos by Art Petrosemolo)

SRO is gearing up for its new season with spring rehearsals. Their May show, Munro explains, will be the last of the format established years ago that included singing, dancing, costumes and props.

“We are going to move to audience interaction programs incorporating sing-along in all the shows starting this summer,” Munro says. “We’ll probably do some props, hats and costumes, “at least for a while.”

Using songs their audiences already know, SRO will morph into a new version of itself, singing with their audience, providing harmony as needed, while continuing to entertain audiences for the foreseeable future.

“We can’t give this up,” Munro says.

For Vivace, their change will not be all inclusive, but will be a long-term evolution as they continue to explore new musical endeavors as a crossover classical group.

Vivace will continue to play at weddings, and now offers couples music for the entire event, including the prelude, wedding ceremony, cocktail hour, as well as dinner and dancing.

What’s really new for the group is its collaboration with a modern digital technology. Vivace is partnering with Lancaster’s DJ (Bring On The Bash) Taylor Courtney, Manheim, (son of singer/songwriter Steven Courtney or Broadjam), Vivace and Courtney can combine live and recorded music for a blended, new sound that when introduced at Fete en Blanc — Lancaster’s 2018 Summer In White party — was well received by a large audience.

“Both out groups do a lot of weddings each year and this combination of live and digital music is really new and clients always want something new,” said Taylor Courtney. “We are putting together some videos to give our prospective wedding couples samples of the new sound soon. Working together with Vivace is helping both our outreach and challenging our creativity.”

“Working live with a DJ,” says Irvine, “combining live and recorded music, is just the next step in classical crossover music and we’re happy to be part of it.”

So, for both groups, change not only was possible — it was necessary. It is extending Vivace’s reach while allowing SRO members to continue their careers.

Follow Vivace Live on Instagram, @Vivacelivestrings; on Facebook; or on their website, Vivacelive.com. Irvine can be reached at 717-572-3024. SRO’s Munro can be reached at 717- 575-7991.

Art Petrosemolo is a freelance feature writer and photographer who recently retired to this area from New Jersey. He welcomes reader feedback at artpetrosemolo@comcast.net.

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