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Singing Angels founder brings joyful noise to Harbor Court

The “Elevator Singers” (counter clockwise from left), Charles Cole, Helen Kolotzbach, Larry Petrus and Janet Hufenbach, under the direction of Singing Angels founder Bill Boehm raise their voices in song at the Harbor Court in Rocky River. (West Life photo by Larry Bennet)

The “Elevator Singers” (counter clockwise from left), Charles Cole, Helen Kolotzbach, Larry Petrus and Janet Hufenbach, under the direction of Singing Angels founder Bill Boehm raise their voices in song at the Harbor Court in Rocky River. (West Life photo by Larry Bennet)

            A visitor to the Harbor Court Retirement Community in Rocky River just may be treated to a twist on traditional elevator music.

            After decades of leading young people in song as founder and director of the Singing Angels, Bill Boehm is now helping senior “angels” to lift their voices, sometimes in the elevators of the Harbor Court, where he resides, and often at dinnertime.

            “My purpose is to bring joy to people,” Boehm, 90, said in a recent interview. He stated that he started the “Elevator Singers” by encouraging residents to sing while being transported to and from meals. Kathi Greco, community relations director at the Harbor Court, observed, “The residents have been enjoying the sing-alongs Bill has been conducting at dinnertime. He has brought a great energy to our community.”

            Boehm, who was born and raised in Cleveland, has an extensive background in music and theater.  He holds a master’s degree in dramatic arts from Western Reserve University, and has had more than 5,000 personal stage appearances, which include solo performances with the Cleveland Symphony Pops Concerts and tenor lead in the NBC-TV production of “Macbeth.”  He said, however, that his favorite music is Broadway show tunes, particularly the operettas of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Barbershop harmonies, which still influence the Angels to this day, are also favored by Boehm, who said he had the pleasure of working with Tom “Big T” Neal, whom he called “one of the most significant people in barbershop.”

            Asked why he began the “Angels” in 1964, Boehm responded without hesitation. “Rock music! It’s one of the great threats to young people.” He decided to create a program that would promote the singing of “good music” among children of various ages and backgrounds. Boehm recalled that the charter group was 80 members strong, ranging in age from 5 to 14 years.  Today, the performing chorus boasts 180 members, ages 8 to 18, representing 9 Ohio counties, 74 cities and 140 schools.  They perform about 90 concerts a year and train for about 320 hours. A reserve chorus, which preps new members, has 120 singers and performs 35 concerts each year, usually including a stop at the Harbor Court.

            The “Angels” have performed all over the world, and Boehm smiles when he says he’s “only been to 44 countries” with the group. The first official tour was to Romania in 1974, and subsequent visits included China in 1983, where Boehm led the group in a concert at the Great Wall of China. He stated that at a time when Americans were forbidden in communist countries, his group was “welcomed with open arms.” The Singing Angels have also appeared in four command performances at the White House and on national TV. They were the only representatives of the United States at the World Fair Expo 2000 in Hanover, Germany.

            When asked what the best part about working with children is, Boehm responded, “I love their spirit.” He added that he is still in touch with “Angels” alumni, having had a recent conversation with a charter member from his first group.  He said that conducting adults is really not much different. “Some of them are like kids. I love them all,” he said.

            Boehem said he keeps busy and is writing a book about his experiences. He said he still goes to concerts, where he may conduct the group’s signature song, “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” Of all his accomplishments, Boehm says he is most proud of his four years in the Army and “making the world a better place for children.”

            Referring to his wealth of experience rather than money, Boehm exclaimed, “I’m the richest man in the world!”

 

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