BREMEN — Beth Webster, director of the Maxinkuckee Singers for the past 20 years will cherish this season’s performances more than most.
That’s because this year will be her last.
“Leaving the group is going to be very bittersweet for me but I feel in my heart it’s time to turn the baton over,” Webster explained. “I probably won’t feel it fully until February when they begin rehearsing again, and I’m not with them.”
Webster said that she will still be proud to see their progress and looks forward to watching them perform in the spring during the warmer season’s schedule.
The performing group named after Culver’s Lake Maxinkuckee started as a thought in the mind of a high school math teacher.
“In 1979 Dan Adams was asked to fill in for a cast member as a character in a dramatic performance of Finian’s Rainbow,” Webster said. “He had so much fun doing it he decided to set up a group of community players.”
As a result, The Maxinkuckee Players began offering dramatic performances in 1980. The Singers came about as a vocal “offshoot” of those efforts.
“In the summer we did a production of Paint Your Wagon and someone later asked then-director Jan Williamson if we did performances for organizations,” Webster said of the Maxinkuckee Singers’ birth. “She called about 10-12 of us to work on some songs and performed for the American Cancer Association in Plymouth.”
Since then the Players have offered musical theater in the summers and the Singers perform (six performances) in the winter and spring, offering all genres of music magic. Performances consist of 11 to 13 numbers total and shows last a little more than an hour. The Christmas performance is one that features more than the others and thus lasts about an hour and 25 minutes — which is why it is the only show that offers a five-minute intermission.
Members of the group audition for a place amidst the vocal talent and presently the group has 13 vocalists, the director, assistant director (Kathy Overmyer), and a keyboardist (Betty Martens) — many of them having been involved for a number of years.
Leanne Senter and Andrea Mallory design the dance routines and choreography is taught to the group by Andrea and Becky Leichty. There is also a two-man technical crew as part of the entourage.
Webster spent 13 seasons with the Players as musical director and sang with the Singers and the alto became director of the latter group of musicians in 1992.
What is the best part of being the director of a group of talented adults?
“It’s a real sense of satisfaction knowing you’ve taken this group of 15 or however many and introduced them to a brand new song, sometimes one that they’ve never heard, and through your directive and your help they can put on this quality performance in just three months,” Webster explained.
The thing she least liked about being director was a responsibility that the person who fills her position will also have to face.
“Sometimes there are unpopular decisions that have to be made,” she said, “and of course with an adult group that has their own opinions, some like it and some don’t. I’ve been fortunate that that hasn’t happened very often. But that’s just part of being the leader.”
If asked, she would recommend to her successor to set the tone of the rehearsal “right off the bat.”
“In my opinion the worst thing you can do with a volunteer group is to waste their time,” Webster said. “In my whole 20 years of directing the group I’ve tried very hard not to do that. I’ve said: ‘This is what we’re covering tonight.’ They’re lucky to get a five minute break from me because I want to keep everything productive. I’ve learned if you expect it from them they give it to you and I’ve been lucky to have a great bunch to work with.”
What made Webster decide to stop at the conclusion of this year? “With any performing group, if it’s to go on and be successful in the future, it needs new ideas, younger ideas, and I had a personal goal to take them and help them grow for 20 years,” she explained. “I’ve fulfilled that goal and it’s time to turn over the leadership.”
Resumes were submitted to president of the Players, Mike Overmyer, who will read the them to the group and they will choose Webster’s successor. “I think that’s only fair that the people that are going to perform are going to select their leader,” Webster said.
Though she is saying goodbye to future seasons with the Singers, Webster said she will still direct the choir at Bremen United Methodist Church.
“My schedule is so full,” she explained. “I think what happens to some retired people is that they have no idea what to do with their time, but I don’t know how I had time to work!”
Retiring from the Singers will offer her a little more time however to spend with her husband of 14 years, Dick, and her two sons, daughter and four grandchildren. Webster retired from teaching in 2004 — she taught the fourth and fifth grades at Jefferson Elementary in Plymouth (for a total of 33 years) — and then worked six years part-time for IUSB as the university supervisor for seniors in their field service for student teaching until 2010.
With the Singers Webster said there is something memorable to her from each season. Like a rehearsal for Fiddler on the Roof during which she was involved in several scenes and at one point, a scene being acted out on the set’s “street,” she realized she was supposed to be on stage speaking lines and thus came out in the wrong costume — a nightgown — intended for another scene. “That brought a lot of laughs,” she remembered. “I went on with the script but I totally blew that scene.”
Another that stands out is the opportunity she had to return to a role with a fellow thespian.
“The most memorable stage experience was when Dan Adams and I got to reprise our roles as Golde and Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof,” Webster said. “In 2008 the Players decided to bring back that production and we got to do that again, 20 years later.”
But it isn’t all fun and excitement. The success of the group, which relies entirely on donations to purchase costumes and music, is based on old-fashioned hard work and practice.
For a singer that means rehearsal from 6:30 to 9 p.m. every Monday and for the director, it means searching for outfits, selecting music, and performers, as well as conducting the rehearsals.
“The busiest time is the Christmas season,” Webster said. “I start the preparing for that season in July. Once the music and the costumes are selected, then I contact the venues.”
For some shows the not-for-profit group has standing room only. Performing around the Culver area, the Maxinkuckee Singers rely on audience and other donations to supply their music, new sound equipment, and costumes. One particular venue Webster says the group arrives to set up an hour prior to the performance and spectators are already picking out their seats.
And there’s a reason why.
“There’s just an incredible amount of talent in those that consider themselves ordinary folks,” Webster said. “Three are music teachers; three are former teachers; one is a current teacher. There’s a nurse … four business people. … And they come from all over the area, Plymouth, Knox, Culver, Rochester and Bremen.”
She continued, “They have tremendous ability and the greatest thing to do is watch them do what they do best. It makes me very proud to watch them and know I had a hand in that.”
To see the Maxinkuckee Singers this season, attend any of the following events: Dec. 13 at Plymouth First United Church of Christ, 321 Center St. in Plymouth at 7:30 p.m. or Dec. 17 at Knox United Methodist Church, 201 S. Shield St., Knox at 6:30 p.m. Central time. For more information, call 574-546-4230.