Choir director Marlene McLane - a dedicated musician

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The St. Mary's carolers dropped in to former choir director Marlene McLane's home to surprise her with a cheerful holiday performance. From left are Lois and Harry Bries, Carla Bolsinger, Diane Bieber, Marge Elsinger, Carol and John Hartmann, Wendy Shea and director Gina Dahlstrom-Osburn. (Photo submitted)

By Caroline Rosacker

Let music touch your soul. This statement hung on the wall as a decorative embellishment in the comfortable living room of newly-retired choir director Marlene McLane of Guttenberg. 

Visiting with McLane at her kitchen table, surrounded by sparkling holiday cheer, she emotionally described her beloved experience as St. Mary's choir director. 

The harmoniously gifted church choir under the direction of McLane has been a mainstay at weekly masses, funeral masses and special holiday masses for the past eight years. 

This dedicated group of men and women of all ages and walks of life has gathered together for weekly practice with McLane, who dedicated her time and talent to combine their voices into a soothing, musical and spiritual experience. 

Then asked if she grew up in a house filled with music, McLane quickly replied with a big smile, "You better believe it girl." 

McLane grew up in a large family of six girls and one boy. She fondly remembers singing with her family while washing dishes and working in the kitchen.  

McLane stated, "My mom sang low harmony and I always sang high," describing her talent as soprano descant high. 

Watching the Lawrence Welk show and the Lennon Sisters' perform was another source of inspiration for this musical talent. 

McLane recalled being in St. Mary's school as a seventh or eighth grader and harmonizing while listening to an Everly Brothers song. One of the nuns overheard her talented soprano voice and quickly encouraged her involvement in the church choir. 

This same nun was persistent in her motivation and  inspiration for McLane to participate in state competitions as a member of the triple trio group, the quartet group and as a solo performer. 

McLane became the choir director after former director Ann Powers relocated from Guttenberg. The choir needed a director and McLane spoke to Father Bries and offered her services. 

This talented go-getter, who does not read music, has guided St. Mary's choir through numerous hours of practice and challenging schedules to create its famous status. 

McLane's capabilities of directing while simultaneously singing high harmony came naturally. "I was never worried things wouldn't work out. I always had the Holy Spirit on my side and in my heart," said McLane. 

McLane repeatedly expressed her gratitude for her organist, Carla Bolsinger, and pianist Jonna Sweers. "Without their musical talents we wouldn't have a choir; it's hard to find people like that, with dedication and talent," replied McLane.

McLane also sang praise for her gifted vocalists. "There are so many beautiful voices among our members — they are all so dedicated," she said with tears in her eyes. 

The choir practices on average an hour and a half each week. Some weeks require more dedication when special music is required. 

McLane has assisted many families throughout the years guiding them through the process of choosing and arranging the music for their departed loved one's funeral services. 

Special music for holidays, first communion and confirmation always required an extra effort from the choir and its director. 

McLane choir has received multiple compliments throughout the years. She shared this emotional story. "Five years ago the Vicar General was at our church attending our confirmation service. Often, while directing the choir, I need to look over my shoulder at the service to make sure our timing is accurate. I noticed the Vicar seemed to be spending a lot of time looking our way. At the end of the service he spoke to me with tears in his eyes and commented that one of the songs I had chosen for the service, Praise Be To Thee Oh Lord, was a song written by a nun he once knew. He told me the nun passed away before she ever heard it performed.  He said we did a beautiful job, and it was a great honor to hear our choir sing."

Compliments received from the Archbishop during another comfirmation Mass were shared with Father Bries. The Archbishop was full of emotion as he complimented the choir. McLane chose a song titled O Sacrum Convivium, and the Archbishop had not heard it performed since high school. 

McLane expressed her gratitude to Father Bries, "He was so easy to work with, he made my job fun. I enjoyed every moment, and he always made me feel appreciated."

McLane has passed her director baton into the capable hands of Gina Dahlstrom-Osburn. As her health allows, she hopes to rejoin the choir with her gifted, strong soprano voice.

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