Thrasher Memorial United Methodist Church hosted a “Night of Worship” concert on February 26. The sanctuary was packed for the performance that included Thrasher’s Sanctuary Choir, orchestra, handbell choir, the contemporary Humble Praise ensemble, and the Children’s Choir.
There was also a performance by the Thursday Morning Music Club (TMMC) Homeschool Choir. The choir’s connection to Thrasher is that its director, Josh O’Dell, is also the Minister of Music at Thrasher.
The TMMC was created in 1908 with the objective of “creating a broader appreciation of music, to encourage and develop musical talent, and to foster and promote musical activities within the community.” Organized for charitable and educational purposes, it was instrumental in the formation of the Roanoke Symphony, the Roanoke Valley Choral Society, and Opera Roanoke.
The TMMC is much acclaimed throughout the valley and a member of both the National and Virginia Federation of Music Clubs.
The Homeschool Choir has become affiliated with the TMMC during just the past year. O’Dell is the first director. The choir practices across town at Melrose Baptist Church on Thursday afternoons from 3-4:30 p.m., but holds its concerts and other events at Thrasher.
The choir includes homeschooled students from ages 12 to 18 from throughout the area– currently from Roanoke, Salem, Fincastle, Troutville, Montvale, Vinton, Hardy, and other locations. The cost to join the choir is just $25 per semester for a 90-minute lesson each week. The choir is still accepting members for this semester.
There is no required audition to join the choir. O’Dell says that if you aren’t an accomplished vocalist, “we will teach you.”
Presently there are 24 members, up from 18 in the fall semester. Some are beginners; some have specialized training. Some were members of the choir before it became affiliated with the TMMC.
Al Bedrosian, whose daughter Madeline sings in the choir, says the Homeschool Choir has gone through many iterations over the years. He has five children and says four of them have been involved with the choir at one time or another.
He said, and other parents echoed, that, “Josh does a really great job as director. He has a really good way about him and the students really like him.”
The choir sings a variety of genres, including both religious and secular music. Some performances, like the Night to Worship concert, include instrumentals by members of the choir taught by private music instructors.
The choir plans to perform in two major concerts each year— the first semester culminating with a Christmas concert and then another in the spring. The spring concert is scheduled for April 27 at Thrasher at 7 p.m. There is no charge for admission.
O’Dell has opted to take the group to the Carowinds Music Festival on May 6 for adjudication by professionals from East Carolina University. They will sing two pieces from memory and receive scores and written critiques from the judges.
Next year his students will be eligible to audition for and participate in All District Chorus. The choir has also performed at nursing homes.
It is scheduled to perform at the National Day of Prayer Services to be held at Shenandoah Baptist Church on Williamson Road on May 4.
As the choir was forming for the first semester, notices were sent home through the Greater Roanoke Home Educators (GRHE), Home Educators Rainbow Forest (HERF), and the Roanoke Valley Home School Recreation (RVHR) organizations to recruit members— as well as spreading the news by word-of-mouth.
Members include Keegan Arnold, Madeline Bedrosian, Alicia Bennett, Valerie Bennett, Jonathan Correa, Josie Correa, James Davis, Carina Frasier, Elijah Furrow, Skylar Gay, Sienna Harrah, Grace Hartman, Caleb Jacks, Evelyn Jacks, Olivia Jacks, Katherine Lawson, Clara May Maxson, Andalyn Powell, Kinsleigh Powell, Reese Powell, Jenna Prillaman, Morgan Suhr, Naomi Suhr, and Wyatt Suhr.
At a recent practice at Melrose Baptist, the students were totally focused and bubbling over with enthusiasm. While there is often the misconception that homeschooled students are out of the mainstream and might be missing out on developing socialization skills, that is certainly not the case with this group.
“Choir mom” (and TMMC third vice president) Lorisa Lawson, whose daughter Katherine sings in the choir, says that opportunities for socializing are abundant for homeschoolers. They are not sitting home in isolation being taught every subject by their parents. Students are able to take many courses in cooperative groups, especially more advanced secondary courses.
There is a very large, very active, and very coordinated homeschool community in the valley with at least two well-established homeschool organizations in the GRHE and HERF, who assist in coordinating classes and a myriad of extracurricular activities.
Lawson said her children have taken advantage of dual enrollment classes with Virginia Western Community College and two have already gone on to received advanced degrees at the university level.
Bedrosian said that many homeschoolers take classes online as well, and their parents are often qualified to teach courses. He currently teaches a public speaking course and a current events class.
Virginia has many regulations for homeschooled students. They must submit a curriculum of study and take annual standardized tests to verify their progress.
Katherine Lawson says because her schedule is much more flexible as a homeschooler, she has the opportunity and time to participate in many enrichment classes. She sees homeschooling as much more intense with conceivably less wasted time. She also says she has no socialization issues— she has tons of friends from her homeschool classes and outside activities. She also says homeschoolers tend to be closer to their parents.
Renee Campbell from the GRHE said, “There are multitudes of extracurricular activities designed just for home educating students. Varsity volleyball, soccer, basketball, swimming, and recreational sports, honor society, newspapers, co-ops, skating, 4-H, robotics, etc. In addition, many home school students participate in all extracurricular activities that include public, private and home school students: travel teams, recreational teams, local theater, youth symphony, art classes, Civil Air Patrol, Scouts, and volunteering. They are very involved in the community.”
Some of their extracurricular activities, especially in the fine arts, serve as electives for public and private school students as part of their education. O’Dell says he is currently teaching the homeschoolers in choir to read music.
Bedrosian founded the Roanoke Valley Homeschool Recreation League 15 years ago, which offers recreational sports for homeschooled students, now including over 300 student athletes on eight teams in three different age groups. In addition, the Southwest Virginia Home School Conquerors sponsor interdenominational and interscholastic basketball, soccer, and other sports.
Homeschool parents say their children are fortunate to be able to benefit from more educational field trips than public school students might able to participate in, simply because of the logistics involved.
The parents and students say the decision to homeschool is generally made on a child-by-child basis. “Self-motivated” students tend to be the most successful homeschoolers.
O’Dell is still accepting students for the homeschool choir. Anyone interested can contact Mike Lawson, president of TMMC, at Lawson.firstname.lastname@example.org or call 540-521-0808. The organization has a Facebook page (TMMC Homeschool Choir) where more information is available as well.
The choir would also welcome tax-deductible donations for their trip to Carowinds. The students in the choir earned about $400 of the amount needed at a catered dinner they held at Thrasher prior to the Night of Worship concert. Anyone interested can contact O’Dell by email at email@example.com.