Based on an article by Jim Garvey in Augusta Magazine, Fall 2012
In 2005 one of Diane’s voice students, Dee Irwin, made a request: “Would I be willing to create a group for adults who weren’t looking for church choir, but wanted some way to have fun and sing? It would be for adults who might not have a lot of singing or musical experience, who wouldn’t dare audition for the Choral Society or Masterworks Chorale…people who just love to sing.” And that is really dear to my heart. Because I really think there are a lot of people who absolutely love to sing who are terrified at the same time and yet who could so much benefit from the joys of singing and the healing properties of singing.
So when Dee asked me to help her start a group, I thought, “That is exactly what I’d love to do.” The group began initially as Woodside Singers, with men and women from the Woodside neighborhood, who met at Diane’s house, with Mo Empie as our accompanist. When it became evident that the population in Woodside was not large enough to populate a 4-part group, it was decided to expand to the entire city of Aiken.
The first board of the new Aiken Singers consisted of Diane Haslam, Dee Irwin, Mo Empie, Gail Boule, Ernie Squarzini, Jim Pierce and Jim Lefebvre.
Diane directs this 40-voice ensemble and it represents all she loves most about the power of singing. “Song in itself is this fabulously unifying element. Singing is good for us physically and emotionally. And it’s good for the community, unifying people, bringing them together.”
The group sings popular music from the 1930s to the ’50s and beyond. Diane does some of the arrangements herself. “These are some of the songs my mom used to sing, so they take me back to my childhood memories.”
The ensemble’s mission is to take music to nursing homes, retirement communities, assisted living facilities and community functions “to take our love of singing to other people who might also love to sing.”
Outreach is more important than choral perfection. Touching people through singing is everything. “We were singing at a retirement home and a little lady, in the middle of the concert, said, ‘Just a minute, just a minute! I want you to stop. I just want to say they brought me here so it could be my home before I go to the angels, but now the angels are singing to me right here!’ Oh, it was so sweet.”